Fruit of the Month- Navel Orange

We are continuing our Citrus Celebration by nominating the Navel Orange as our Fruit of the Month for January!

Background and History

Navel oranges have thick, orange skins that are easy to peel.  The term “navel” refers to the belly button like marking at the blossom end of the fruit, which encloses a smaller secondary fruit.

In 1820, the first navel orange was discovered in an orchard on a monastery in Brazil.  The orange was a mutation from the common sweet orange grown there.  The fruit was found to be sweet and seedless, making it an instant favorite.  In 1870, cuttings from that tree were sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington DC for propagation.  The variety was referred to as the Bahia Orange, but eventually was renamed the Washington Navel Orange.

Prior to the navel, citrus was grown from seed, which produced many different varieties and flavors of oranges.  Since the navel orange is seedless, the only way to propagate the fruit is by grafting buds onto the rootstock of another citrus variety.  This process creates a clone of the original parent.  In other words, the next navel orange you eat will be genetically identical to the very first navel orange tasted in 1820 in Brazil!

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History of Navels in California

The first California orange grove was planted in 1804 at the Mission San Gabriel. The Spanish padres planted Valencia oranges at each mission as they made their way north along the California coastline.  By 1822, over a half a million citrus trees were growing in California.

In 1873, the US Department of Agriculture sent three starter trees to Eliza Tibbets, a former neighbor of William Saunders, the Superintendent of Propagating Gardens in the USDA.  Two of the three trees survived and began bearing fruit.  In 1879, at Riverside’s first citrus festival, the navel orange won first place and attracted local attention.  There was such a demand for a cutting from the two original navels that a fence had to be erected around the trees to prevent theft.

Today, one of the original parent Washington navel trees is still alive and producing fruit in Riverside, California on the corner of Arlington and Magnolia.  It is approximately 140 years old and is designated a California historical landmark.


Interested in seeing the original Washington Navel orange?  For more information visit:

The navel orange revolutionized the citrus industry.  As the fruit gained popularity, the demand for the oranges, coupled with an increase in citrus production and profit propelled a “second California Gold Rush.”  With the help of the transcontinental railroad system, the oranges were able to ship across the country.  Growers flocked to California to buy farmland.  By 1885, 40,000 acres in Southern California were devoted to citrus production.   As images of a sunny California were plastered on the sides of citrus crates, people across the nation began moving to Southern California to “get a slice of paradise.”

Harvesting Navel Oranges


The Washington navel orange ripens from fall into winter and will keep on the tree for 3 to 4 months.  To harvest the fruit at its peak ripeness, look for fruits that are firm and heavy.  Green tint on the rind does not affect the quality and taste of the fruit.  Oranges can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a month.

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  1. Pingback: January Fresh Juice! | Food Forward

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