This is one of the most ancient fruits and one that has been most modified by culture, selection, and natural crossing. De Candolle says : "Thanks to the discoveries of travellers in British India, they are able to distinguish the wild and therefore true and natural species." Those who have tasted the fair-looking ripe fruit of the bitter-orange seedlings, yet quite common from New Orleans south to the gulf, will have a feeble conception of the wild, bitter oranges from which the luscious, sweet varieties are supposed to have been developed during the ages in southern China. As a commercial fruit, found over the civilized world in every grocery, and even mining and lumber camps, it is a product of recent years. It first became commercial in parts of Europe and Asia. West Europe was first supplied commercially from the Azores. In 1878, C. P. Johnson says that 410,101 boxes of St. Michael oranges were received in Great Britain, which at that time were all produced in the Azores. Great quantities of the orange, less esteemed as to quality, were received in west Europe from Sicily, Portugal, and Spain. At that time the supply of the United States was mainly from Jamaica and the Bahamas, with a partial supply from Florida. Later orange-growing on a large scale was developed in Florida, mainly near the St. Johns River, that gave us the cheapest and best oranges known at that time to history.
The orange to reach its highest perfection must, like Indian-corn, have warm nights as well as days. Hence the great supply from that source from 1880 to 1894 mainly shut out competition during late fall and early winter over a large part of the Union east of the Rocky Mountains. But the great freeze of 1894-95 cut off this supply suddenly, as most of the bearing trees were killed down to the latitude of Tampa. The very conditions of air that favor the development of the best quality of the orange, and favor early ripening, brought about the great destruction of trees in 1894-95. The writer was in Florida at the time of the February freeze which caught the trees with young foliage and tender shoots in a condition of growth. Peach-, mulberry-, and even black wild cherry-trees were killed at the same time, and wistaria vines of many years' growth that are hardy far north where the foliage is dormant in winter. The writer has experienced a greater degree of cold in the Salt River valley in Arizona that failed to injure the wood of orange-trees, except at the points of growth, and to cause the leaves to drop, as the trees in winter are in a relatively dormant and ripened condition.
At present extensive orange-planting in Florida is confined to the parts south of the latitute of Tampa. Without doubt the denudation of the timber-belt of pine, sixty miles wide in southern Georgia, by the lumbermen, turpentine and rosin operators, and fire, has had much to do with the destruction of orange-trees in central Florida since 1886. Orange-growing on the higher table-lands of Cuba at this time is making rapid advances with many favoring conditions. During the winter of 1894-95, the writer left the frozen orange orchards of Flordia to investigate orange growing in west Cuba. Isolated trees and very small groves were found everywhere and without systematic culture or care, and without irrigation or soil fertilizing, the trees were thrifty, healthy, and loaded with fruit of high quality. In the near future it is probable that early ripening oranges of high quality will be grown on the rich soils of Cuba that can be furnished at prices within the reach of the laboring classes. The early maturing of the oranges of south Florida and Cuba will not interfere to any great extent with the profits of orange-growing on the west coast, as the navel variety, and most others grown, should not be shipped before midwinter to secure best prices, as the cool nights much retard the ripening period.
In California, orange-growing has made rapid advances within the past twenty years. The great commercial orchards on the mesa lands of south California have no equal in extent or methodic culture and care on this continent, and few if any equals on the Mediterranean. Indeed, orange-growing on the foot-hills and mesa ridges, with air-drainage (97. Air-drainage) to lower levels, has extended north in California to Placer Countv and to a less extent to the north part of the Sacramento valley. The enormous extent of the business in recent years can be gathered from the statement of Leonard Coates, who says that in 1897-98 and 1898-99, the orange crop of the west coast reached an annual shipment of four million boxes, filling 14,000 cars.
It is not probable that this vast interest will decline for the reason stated above, that the cool nights favor late ripening. The use of this luscious and healthful fruit is on the increase. Cuba, Porto Rico, and south Florida will control the early market, but California will control the market from midwinter to July and will adapt shipments to this period.