- Author: Chester Roistacher
The early history of the parent navel orange was presented in the last issue of Topics in Subtropics as “The Parent Washington navel orange tree - Its first years”. Included in that article were the early shipments of budwood and trees of a navel orange from Bahia, Brazil to the gardens and grounds of the Department of Agriculture in Washington D.C. From there shipment of trees were made by rail and horse drawn wagon to the home of Eliza and Luther Tibbets in Riverside California.
When the trees fruited at the Tibbets’ home yard there was much interest and excitement in this new orange. Greater recognition came when the fruit were exhibited at the local fairs. Shortly thereafter a new industry was born, beginning in Riverside and extending to surrounding communities. What was it about this navel orange that made it become such a popular and important fruit? This was a citrus unlike any of the seedy oranges that existed at the time from seedling trees. The navel orange was larger, contained no seed, had a superb sweetness and flavor, peeled easily, had a bright orange color and matured for the winter and spring months especially around Christmas and New Year period.
In the concluding part of the previous article, two pictures were shown of the parent Washington navel orange tree in the early 1900's. One picture, taken about 1910 in its dedicated park at the corner of Magnolia and Arlington avenues and showed the tree in apparent good health. The second picture taken about five to seven years later showed the tree declining with yellowing leaves and suffering from disease which was later confirmed as Phytophthora (gummosis) root rot. This declining tree was one of the original two trees which had been transplanted from the Tibbets’ home yard. We show again this declining tree in Fig. 1. The possible loss of this historic tree would have been tragic, since its sister tree at the Mission Inn was also showing signs of decline. This sister tree, also taken from the home of Luther and Eliza Tibbets, had been transplanted in 1903 to the world famous Mission Inn in Riverside. Fig. 2 shows this tree at the Mission Inn about 1920. On December 4th, 1922 the Riverside Daily Press reported that the tree at the Mission Inn had died and had been removed. It was noted by local townspeople that the tree had begun to fail rapidly after the death of President Theodore Roosevelt in 1919 who had assisted in the transplanting ceremony.
The stump of the parent Washington navel orange tree which had died at the Mission Inn was given as a gift by Archibald Shamel, a leading horticulturalist, to Sir Percy Fitzpatrick who was visiting Riverside at that time. Sir Percy Fitzpatrick was a famous writer and owner of Amanzi Citrus Estate near Port Elizabeth, SouthAfrica. The plaque on the stump reads:
"Parent Washington navel orange tree planted at Riverside, California -1873; died and removed -1922-. This section of trunk 2 ft above ground is presented to Sir Percy Fitzpatrick as a memento from California. A.D. Shamel, the Mission Inn, Riverside, December, 1922."
This historic stump of the parent Washington navel orange tree now resides at the home of Patrick and Marina Niven at the Amanzi Estate in Uitenhage, South Africa. Patrick Niven was a highly respected citrus nurseryman in South Africa who passed away in 2009.
Facing the inevitable loss of the parent navel orange tree in its dedicated park, a decision was made by the University of California scientists to try to save this tree by inarching. The tree had been girdled by gummosis and was rapidly deteriorating. The inarching was done by Dr. H. J. Webber, H. W. Mertz and Glenn Blackman. They inarched with seedlings of sweet orange, rough lemon and sour orange. The gummosis lesions can be seen in the lower trunk just above the top of the protective cylinder. Dr. Klotz again photographed the inarches on July 17, 1944, twenty six years after the initial inarching was done in 1918 and the inarches are shown on the right in Fig. 4. In 1951, it was noted that some of the original inarches showed lesions of Phytophthora. Therefore, in that same year, a second inarching was done using three seedlings of Troyer citrange and one of trifoliate orange. The grafting was done by Denard C. Wylie, Senior Superintendent of Cultivations at the Citrus Experiment Station.
The inarches in 2009
The survival and preservation of the parent ‘Washington’ navel orange tree was dependant on the successful inarches made in 1918 and repeated again in 1951. This same fungus killed its sister tree at the Riverside Mission Inn in 1922. However, the timely inarches saved this historic tree. The tree was in good health and bearing a good crop of fruit. In the foreground in this picture is a plaque honoring Mrs. Eliza Tibbets. The plaque reads:
"To honor Mrs. Eliza Tibbets and commend her good work in planting at Riverside in 1873, THE FIRST WASHINGTON NAVEL ORANGE TREES in California, native to Bahia, Brazil, proved the most valuable fruit introduction yet made by the United States Department of Agriculture. 1920"
A sign on the lamppost adjacent to the parent Washington navel orange tree reads “Historical Landmark No. 20. Although it is marked as number No. 20, it has been reported to be the first Historical Landmark so designated by the State of California.
Conference on the health of the parent navel tree Sept. 2006
At the request of Robert Johnson and Alisa Sramala with the Planning and Design Division of Riverside Park and Recreation Department, a meeting was organized at the parent ‘Washington’ navel orange tree with the objective of studying the general health of the tree and obtaining directions on the best way of maintaining it to ensure its longevity. In response to this request, Dr. Tracy Kahn organized a meeting of concerned individual at the tree site on September 29, 2006. Those present at this meeting are shown in Fig. 7. At that time the tree was in excellent health, with large leaves and a good crop of large sized fruit. Discussion was held on various aspects for the continued maintenance and improvements for the health of the tree.
The impact of the Parent navel
In the early 1900's the impact that this single tree had on the city of Riverside and on the surrounding area was profound. Considering that Riverside had been founded in 1870 and that most of the cities in the region were also founded about this same time, the commercial impact of this tree was of great importance on the development of a number of cities in the region and also throughout southern California. One can still see the large two storied homes when traveling from Riverside to Redlands. These homes were designed so that one could see above the orange groves which filled much of area in the region at that time. The population of Riverside in 1880 was only 368 and a little over 1000 in the surrounding areas. Citrus orchards increased and flourished throughout the region and the navel orange became its most important major agricultural crop. The region around Riverside and its surrounding areas was ideally suited for this tree. The small trees sent from Washington D.C. and nurtured in the Tibbets home yard could not have been planted in a more favorable environment for the full development of the deep orange color and superb flavor of the fruit.
Our indebtedness to this mother tree
Little did Eliza or Luther Tibbets fully realize or could have predicted the impact that this tree would have, not only on the development of southern California, but on world citriculture. This tree was responsible not only for the creation of a citrus industry in California, but for the establishment of the world famous Citrus Experiment Station. It was responsible for the iced railroad cars, for the creation of the Sunkist and other cooperative marketing organizations, for the introduction of various insects to control serious pests, for research on decay control, for the creation of packing houses and the many jobs and small industries associated with citrus. In many ways it was also responsible for the growth and early development of many cities in southern California extending from Ventura by the sea to Yucaipa at the foot of the San Bernardino mountains and extending north to the cities in the rich farmlands of central California. We in California and throughout the world have been indebted to this remarkable tree, listed as the most important plant introduction made into the United States!
For a full picture history of this extraordinary and famous tree visit the United Nations website. This URL will get you directly to this slide show #79 on the parent Washington navel orange:
For the full article and images, see:
- Author: Chester Roistacher
In January, 1995 during my second consultancy visit to Thailand, I was asked to lecture to the staff of KasetsartUniversity located in Bangkok. The lecture was on the problems of the greening disease in their country where trees die between 4 and 8 years and rarely reach 12 years of age. The lecture was well attended by many young staff and scientists. During the lecture I showed them a picture of a large citrus tree dying with the greening disease .
While showing this picture, almost half the audience raised their hands and one by one, said that picture of this tree could not have been taken in Thailand for they had never seen a tree of this size. In truth, the picture was taken in Thailand by Dr. E.C. Calavan who visited Thailand in 1975 and gave me this slide. In truth, all of these younger scientists assumed that citrus trees lived a short period of time and were replaced. I then showed them the picture of the Parent navel orange tree which was 120 years old the time of my lecture and they could not grasp that a citrus tree could live that long. Today, this historical parent navel orange tree located at the corner of Arlington and Magnolia Avenues in Riverside is 134 years old. It is still bearing large beautiful fruit and is in good health. In this first of two articles I wish to relate a little of the early history of this important tree.
The first introduction of budwood of the navel orange from Bahia, Brazil to Washington, D.C. A little known history on the introduction of the first budwood is contained in a letter in the files of the National Archives in WashingtonD.C. (Moore and Moore, 1951). It was written by Richard A. Edes, U.S. Consul in Bahia, Brazil and dated January 21, 1871. The budwood was sent to Horace Capron, Commissioner of Agriculture and reads as follows: "I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your communication of December 15, 1870. The favorite orange of this part of Brazil, and of which this province is celebrated is named the navel orange. This orange contains no seed and for transplanting, the cuttings of the tree must be used. Such cuttings are usually put into a basket of earth of the diameter of about 10 inches and the baskets to the number of 8 or 10 are packed in a large case with a glass top. In the summer season it can be forwarded without much risk. I shall be glad to forward whatever number of cuttings may be desired and would suggest the month of May as being the most suitable for the purpose." Capron replied to Edes on February 21, 1871 and on April 20, 1871, Edes acknowledged the letter and said that he would forward the desired navel orange cuttings.
The first successful introduction of the navel orange. (Dorsett, Shamel and Popenoe, 1917) reported on the recollection of William Saunders made some 29 years after receipt of budwood of the Bahia navel from Brazil. Saunders was then Superintendent of the Gardens and Grounds of the USDA in Washington D.C. and recalled that "Some time in 1869 the then Commissioner of Agriculture, Horace Capron, brought to my office and read me a letter which he had just received from a correspondent in Bahia, Brazil. Among other matters, special mention was made of a fine seedless orange of large size and fine flavor. Thinking that it might be of value in this country, I noted the address of the writer and sent a letter asking to be the recipient of a few plants of this orange. This request brought, in course of time, a small box of orange twigs, utterly dry and useless. I immediately sent a letter requesting that someone be employed to graft a few trees on young stocks and that all expenses would be paid by the Department. Ultimately a box arrived containing 12 newly budded trees and being packed as I had suggested, were in fairly good condition." In an article by (Webber (1940), he believed that the Brazilian correspondent was the Reverend F.I.G. Schneider. It is possible that the initial letter was that of Richard Edes and the date was not in 1869, but January of 1871. The second shipment of budded trees may have been sent by the Reverend F.I.C. Schneider to William Saunders, as suggested by Webber (1940).
There is much debate on the arrival of the parent navel orange trees to Riverside, California from WashingtonD.C. After the trees were received from Bahia, Brazil they were budded to a rootstock by Saunders in Washington and most were sent to Florida, where they did poorly. Accounts put Eliza Tibbets in Washington, D.C. in 1873 (McClain, 1976). "She was an old friend of the Saunders and while visiting with them, Mr. Saunders showed her the young navel orange trees." McClain further stated "That no one made note of this historic event is not surprising since new varieties were constantly being brought into the area by the new settlers.
The new colony of Riverside was only 4 to 5 years old when the trees arrived." Esther Klotz, a renowned historian on the tree, in hand written notes on the Washington navel cited evidence for the arrival of the tree on December 10th 1873 after being a month on the way (Klotz, 1972).
McClain (1976) reported that the fact that the trees arrived safe and sound was a small miracle. The trees were shipped by rail to Gilroy via San Francisco, and then by stage coach from San Francisco to Los Angeles, taking 3 days for the stage trip. She wrote that Luther and Eliza Tibbets drove 65 miles in their buckboard wagon from Riverside to pick up the precious package. It is reported that perhaps three trees were planted, but that one had been trampled by a cow. It is widely accepted that Eliza Tibbets took care of these trees and used dishwater to keep them alive, since they were not connected up to the canal water (due to the contentious behavior of Mr. Tibbets who refused to pay for water rights).
The first fruiting of the Washington navel orange. McClain (1976) reported that the first navel oranges were not produced on the trees at the Tibbets home, but rather from that of the neighbors McCoy and Cover who had budded existing seedling trees with budwood from the Tibbets' trees when they had first arrived. Commercial exposure came with the areas first citrus fair in 1879 where the seedless navel oranges won first prize over all competition. This created a demand for budwood and a fence had to be erected around the two original trees at the Tibbets’ home to prevent theft. It is said that $1.00 a bud was paid by people anxious to get buds.
On April 23rd 1902, one of the two parent navel orange trees was transplanted from the Tibbets homestead to its present location in a small fenced park at the corner of Arlington Avenue and Magnolia Avenue. The remaining parent navel orange tree was transplanted on May 8th, 1903 to the courtyard of the Glenwood tavern, now known as the Mission Inn.
The fact that a President of the United States would transplant this historic tree was testimony to its importance and significance. On December 4th, 1922 the Riverside Daily Press reported that the parent Washington navel orange tree, which had been replanted to the Mission Inn patio in 1903, had been removed following its death. It was noted by local townspeople that the tree had begun to fail rapidly after the death of President Theodore Roosevelt in 1919 who had assisted in the transplanting ceremony.
A new home. Figure 6 shows the parent Washington navel orange tree in its new home at the corner of Magnolia and Arlington Avenues about 1920. It is in a small park dedicated as the `Eliza Tibbets Memorial Park’ under the care of the Riverside Parks Department. The transplanted tree appeared in good health as shown in this picture. The parent Washington navel orange tree in its small park in Riverside began to show decline about 1915‑1917. In Fig. 7 we see the tree in very poor condition suffering from Phytophthora (gummosis) root rot. The loss of this tree historic tree would have been tragic, since it was one of the two original parent trees still surviving from the first shipment to California in 1873.
For the full article and images, see: