Doubts of the Nativity of the Golden Orange-tree.—Its Believed Origin.—Where Abounding in the United States, and by Whom Introduced.—Record of its Early Notice.—Its Attainable Height under Culture. —Its Majestic Bearing and Floral and Fruit Productiveness. —Its Many "Varieties Variously Described and Qualified.—Soil and Climate Suited to its Thrift.—How Propagated.—Manner of Raising from Cuttings.—Uses for which Principally Cultivated.—Description and Usefulness of its Wood.—Its Greatest Enemy.
Doubts exist as to the nativity of this tree, but it is believed to have been originally a native of the wanner parts of Asia, and to have been introduced into America about the period of the first settlements, where it has become acclimated to the warmer portions of the mainland, and to the tropical and temperate islands of its coast waters. It is found to exist in Florida, where, not only in plantations along the coast, but in the interior wilds, extensive groves are met with; these trees, however, are not considered of American origin, having, as is supposed, been introduced by the Spaniards at the time of their settlements in that country.
" The first distinct notice of this fruit on record is by Avicenna, an Arabian physician, who flourished in the tenth century, and, according to Galesio, the Arabs, when they entered India, found the orange-trees there and brought them to Europe by two routes—the sweet ones through Persia to Syria and thence to the shores of Italy and the south of France, and the bitter ones by Arabia, Egypt, and the north of Africa to Spain and Portugal."*
* Browne's "Trees of America," p. 61.
It was also found indigenous to India and China on the Portuguese reaching these countries during their discoveries of the sixteenth century.
The orange-tree, under favorable culture, attains to a height of from twenty-five to thirty feet; it is of upright growth, and branches out with majestic luxuriance of foliage, forming a summit regularly symmetrical. Its leaves are of moderately large size, of a fine shiny-green color on top, and beautifully shaped. Its pleasing odorous flowers occur in small clusters on the branches, and are of the varieties of white tinged with pink. The bark of the trunk on old trees is of an ash-gray color, while that of the branches is of a soft green. The perfect uniform straightness of its trunk, the regular distribution of its branches, and the great richness of its foliage, flowers, and golden fruit give it a decided superiority of appearance and usefulness over other trees, and it is hardly possible to conceive or imagine an object more delightful, these qualities entitling it to be considered one of the most magnificent and beautiful productions of the vegetable kingdom.
There are many varieties of the orange which are supposed to have been derived from the common species ; but whether from its natural habit to change, original differences of the stock, or from the diverse soil and climate from which they have been produced, it has not yet been determined. The following are the most important varieties :
Navel golden-fruited orange-tree is a native of the torrid zone, being chiefly cultivated in Brazil, where it flourishes in all its magnificence, and produces a fruit similar to the common orange, but slightly more oblong, of a most delicious and agreeable flavor, and yellowish, juicy pulp. Its fruit is distinguished by an excrescence which grows at the end opposite the stem, into which all disagreeable impurities are drawn, leaving its pulp in possession of all its pleasing qualities.
To J. D. Browne belongs the honor of introducing this variety into the United States, he having brought several trees from Brazil in 1835, which were planted in Florida and are believed still to exist.
The Chinese golden-fruited orange-tree is a much esteemed variety, with ovate, oblong leaves, and smooth, round fruit. It is indigenous to France, Portugal, and Italy.
Pear-shaped golden-fruited orange-tree. This is one of the most hardy trees of its kind, and is well worthy of cultivation. It produces a large, pear-shaped fruit, from which it derives its name.
The blood-red-pulp golden-fruited orange-tree is distinguished by the color of its fruit, which is reddish-yellow; is of medium size, round and rough-skinned, and contains a pulp irregularly mottled with crimson.
Sweet-skinned golden-fruited orange-tree. This is a much favored fruit-bearing variety. It produces fruit the pulp of which is of a deep-yellow color, sub-acid, soft and melting.
Mandarin orange-tree. This tree is indigenous to China, and is cultivated for the superior quality of its fruit, which is of a deep orange color, sweet, soft-rinded, and possesses the peculiar characteristic of the pulp being in a separated state from the rind, even allowing of the motion of the pulp within.
Seedless golden-fruited orange-tree. Of all the varieties, this tree is considered the most productive. It bears a small, round, thin-rinded, seedless fruit with a deli-ciously sweet-flavored pulp.
Bitter golden-fruited orange-tree. This tree is of stunted growth, spiny limbed, and subdivided into several varieties, among which are the horn-fruited, much esteemed for the delicious perfume of its flowers; the female Bigarade, having the peculiar characteristic of producing a two-folded fruit, or, " orange within orange;" the curled - leaved Bigarade, of stunted growth, with small, blunt, curled leaves, clustered blossoms, and coarse fruit; the double-flowered Bigarade, prized for the production of deliciously fragrant double flowers; the bitter orange-tree, distinguished by its dark fruit, filled with bitter, sour pulp, and the myrtle-leaved Bigarade, suited for garden culture, owing to its showy floral and fruit productiveness.
The orange-tree is cultivated in various soils, but flourishes best in a warm, fertile compost of sand and loam, with a prevailing atmosphere of 62° to 84° F. temperature. Upon the position and soil depend the thrift of the trees, and in order to insure this they should be sheltered from the disturbing influences of high or chilly winds; so, also, a uniform salubrity of air conduces to a deliciously rich flavoring of the fruit, while excessively heated temperature tends to enlarge its rind and impair the quality of its pulp.
It is propagated by cuttings, layers, and grafting. As the plants raised from seed do not readily bear fruit or bloom, they are usually propagated to increase variety and supply grafting stocks.
The manner of raising these trees from cuttings in England, as described by Browne in his " Trees of America," is as follows: " Take the youngest shoots, and also a quantity of the two-year-old shoots; these may be cut into lengths of from nine to eighteen inches. Take the leaves off the lower part of each cutting to the extent of about five inches, allowing the leaves above to remain untouched; then cut right across, under an eye, and make a small incision in an angular direction on the bottom of the cutting. When the cuttings are thus prepared, take a pot and fill it with sand ; size the cuttings, so that the short ones may be all together, and those that are taller in a different pot. Then, with a small dibble, plant them about five inches deep in the sand, and give them a good watering from above, to settle the sand about them. Let them stand a day or two in a shady place, and if a frame be ready with bottom heat, plunge the pots to the brim. Shade them well with a double mat, which may remain till they have struck root; when rooted, take the sand and cuttings out of the pot, and plant them into single pots, in the proper compost. Plunge the pots with the young plants again into a frame, and shade them for four or five weeks, or till they are taken out with the pots, when they may be gradually exposed to the light. From various experiments, Mr. Henderson, of Woodhall, England, found that pieces of two-year-old wood struck quite well; and, therefore, in place of putting in cuttings six or eight inches long, he took off cuttings from ten inches to two feet long, and struck them with equal success. Although he at first began to put in cuttings only in the month of August, he afterwards put them in at any time of the year, except when the plants were making young wood. By giving them a gentle bottom heat, and covering them with a hand-glass, they will generally strike root in seven weeks or two months."
The uses for which orange-trees are cultivated are principally their fruit and showy appearance, and the agreeable pleasure derived from the grove when in bloom and fruit-laden. Its wood is hard, compact, of a yellowish color, slightly odorous, and capable of being polished, and is chiefly used in making fancy articles, such as boxes, dressing-cases, etc.
The tree, while growing, is subject to the attacks of an insect, or bark-louse. Many remedies have been tried to prevent its ravages, such as fumigating the trees, smearing them with lime, potash, sulphur, quicklime, salt, glue, etc., but all have proved ineffectual to arrest the action of this sly destroyer.