Everyone knows that California is an agricultural paradise, thanks to the wide variety of landscapes, climates and elevations that create ideal growing environments for a huge variety of crops.
Including, of course, fruit!
Southern California is an orange fruit paradise, with over 300 boxes of oranges harvested per acre each year. And, with around 270,000 acres of orchards spread throughout Fresno, Kern, Tulare, Ventura and Riverside counties, that makes for a lot of oranges!
Now, orange you glad you live in our Southern California apartments?
5 major orange tree varieties grown in SoCal
Not quite an orange, not quite a lime and yet very much both, the calamondin (or calamansi, as it’s often referred to) is more often grown as an ornamental tree than a harvest tree. However, many still seek out the fruits for their unique flavor, rind and appearance.
Originating from the Philippines and appearing in the United States around 1900, the calamondin resembles a cross between a kumquat, a lemon, a lime and a mandarin, with a sour flavor and a juicy flesh that makes it popular for cooking and making jams or jellies. And sure, it’s not the most popular fruit out there, but it’s certainly unique and well worth a try!
Cara Cara orange
Sweet, seedless and resembling a small grapefruit, the Cara Cara orange is a winter variety that is another popular citrus crop in Southern California. It has all the sweetness and structure of a Washington navel orange, but its reddish flesh has a distinct cranberry-like flavor that adds a bit of tartness to the fruit.
Moro blood orange
There are a lot of blood oranges out there, but the Moro blood orange is arguably the most popular variety. Unlike most oranges, these fruits grow in clusters on the tree and turn almost red the longer they ripen, reflecting the intensity of the red flesh within.
In general, blood oranges have a higher level of antioxidants than other orange varieties and are known to fight cancer-causing cells in the human body! Also, they taste like berries and oranges had a baby, so that’s pretty amazing, too.
If you see orange orchards filled with fruit in the summer months, then you’re likely seeing the Valencia orange — the only orange that grows in the summer.
These oranges have thin rinds, a few seeds and a juicy flesh, making them ideal for making orange juice. They’re a variety of sweet oranges and were cultivated in Santa Ana, California, in the mid-19th century by an agronomist named William Wolfskill, who named the orange after the town of Valencia, Spain, whose oranges are known to be sweet, fragrant and juicy.
These oranges are also the reason why the town of Valencia in California exists, as it’s where the crop was first planted commercially at the Irvine Ranch.
Washington Navel orange
This popular orange variety is the most widely-grown variety in the world, and probably the one you think of when the word “orange” comes to mind. It’s sweet, seedless, juicy, fairly decent in size and has a thick, slightly textured rind that makes it easy to peel by hand. All in all — a great all-around orange that’s good for juicing, snacking and baking.
The variety was first introduced to the United States in the early 1800s when the U.S. Department of Agriculture was looking to discover crops that would grow well in the newly-settled West coast. Food explorers were sent all over the world to find fruits, vegetables, grains, herbs and spices that would grow well in the different climates around the country, and those explorers are the reason we have foods like avocados, mangoes, apples, bananas, kale and more on our store shelves today. Including, of course, oranges!
This specific orange is a mutation of a sweet orange tree and was recorded to have first been seen in a monastery in Bahia, Brazil, in 1820. A result of that mutation was an odd dent at the blossom end of the orange which, as you might guess, is where the navel name came from! A dozen of these trees were sent to the U.S.D.A. in Washington D.C. (hence, the name “Washington navel”) where they were then distributed to experimental gardens all over the United States.
One of those trees made it to Eliza Tibbets in Riverside, California, in 1870 and the tree absolutely flourished under the Southern California sun. In fact, it did better than any of the other trees that were distributed to other experimental gardens, and it was soon grafted and planted all over the region. Its cloned trees helped establish California’s citrus industry, and today it's one of the most popular varieties of oranges in the world!
In fact, you can actually go to the parent tree that grew the very first of these oranges in the state, located in Riverside, California! It’s still there, growing happily under the warm SoCal sunshine.
Next time you’re at the grocery store or farmers market, keep an eye out for these California-grown orange varieties and give them a try! They’re bound to be some of the freshest oranges you’ll ever have!
Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/tamanna_rumee