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Oranges
Nature Bulletin No. 363-A   December 20, 1969
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

ORANGES
Until about 1900, in many parts of the country, oranges were a luxury rarely enjoyed by ordinary folks. At Christmas time, here in the Middle West, Santa Claus might put one in the toe of a child's stocking, and sometimes they were passed out as treats at a holiday party in church or school. Lemons were fairly common but the orange was as much a symbol of Christmas as holly, mistletoe and the traditional tree. That seems strange today when this fruit or its concentrated juice -- rich in Vitamin C -- are commonplace essentials in our year-round diet.

Oranges and their relatives -- lemon, lime, citron, grapefruit and the little orange-like kumquat -- all come to us from tropical or subtropical regions of the Old World. No citrus fruit is native to the western hemisphere and it is interesting to note that the orange was the first foreign fruit tree, of any kind, to be brought to this country. The original home of the orange was probably in the hilly country of Indo-China; the lemon, lime and citron apparently came from India; grapefruit from Polynesia and the Malay Archipelago; the kumquat from China.

Citrus fruits are all borne on shrubs or small trees which are evergreen, aromatic and usually quite thorny. The stem of each glossy leathery leaf has a pair of wings -- broad on some species but scarcely noticeable on others -- and a single spine at the base. The deliciously fragrant flowers have from 4 to 8 thick waxy white petals -- except for those of the lemon and citron, which are purplish-pink on the outside. You can smell an orange grove nearly a half-mile away, and the 5- petalled white blossoms are traditionally worn by brides during the marriage ceremony. Another striking thing is that an orange tree blooms at all times of the year and has flower buds, open blossoms, green fruit and ripe golden fruit -- all at the same time.

The fruits are enclosed in leathery peels dotted with oil glands. Inside they are divided into about a dozen sections, each made up of many little "juice sacks" and containing a few seeds. When planted, each seed commonly produces more than one seedling -- sometimes as many as 13. An exception is the seedless Navel Orange which has a little secondary orange tucked into the blossom end. All citrus trees and shrubs are very sensitive to frost and are attacked by a host of diseases and insect pests.

There are three principal species of oranges -- the Sweet or Common; the Sour; and the King or Mandarin, which includes the Satsuma from Japan and the familiar loose-skirted Tangerine or "kid glove orange" from China. Hundreds of varieties are known. Both the Sweet and the Sour oranges were taken to India and China where they may have been cultivated as early as 3000 BC There they escaped and still grow wild.

The Sour Orange, also called the Bitter or Seville Orange, was brought from Persia and Arabia by the Mohammedans in the 12th Century and introduced into North Africa, Sicily and Spain. The early Spanish explorers brought it to Florida where it escaped, was spread by Indians, and became naturalized. The chief use of sour oranges in this country is for rootstocks on which to graft sweet oranges and other citrus species but they are grown commercially in southern Spain and used for various purposes. Mixed with sweet oranges they make marvelous marmalade.

Any good encyclopedia tells how the Sweet Orange was brought to Europe during the 15th Century and thence to Florida and California.


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