• Mary Stanley

Considering Oranges

Updated: May 29, 2018

The Orange! Geoff Dallimore

The orange is an awesome fruit, Though doomed to live without a rhyme, Surpassing, truly, the bitter lime, The flagrant plum, the plump green pear, The apple crisp; not one will spare A passing thought for this lonely brave, This hermit in his flavoured cave. No rhyme, no friend, no bush, no root: The orange is an awesome fruit.

What do you think of when you hear the word orange? Color with a wave length of about 590 nanometers? Breakfast juice? Harvey Wallbangers? The word is derived from Tamil, and it passed through numerous other languages as it passed through numerous trade routes before reaching the English language and America. Sanskrit nāraṅga, Spanish naranja. The earliest uses of the word orange in English refer to the fruit. Before the English-speaking world tasted the orange, the color was referred to as "yellow-red." Words, plants, ideas have always spread through trade routes.

 Oranges are native to China and they were grown in that country as early as 2,500 BC. The Romans imported oranges but after the fall of Rome they were forgotten in Western Europe. The bitter orange, introduced to Italy by the crusaders in the 11th century—were grown in the southern Europe for condiments and medicinal purposes. This is the orange referred to as orange (Citrus aurantium) from the 11th century to the end of the 18th century.

Chinese orange or bush orange as it sometimes called is a small bushy shrub like tree which produces plenty of small lime sized sour highly flavored oranges with very thin peel The first sweet orange tree (the orange as we know it today) was imported to Portugal in 1635. By 1650 it was marketed in France and Italy and called Portugal or portogallo or sweet China orange. The fruit was sweet and could be eaten fresh out of the hand, unlike other citrus fruits known at the time. Its scientific name became Citrus sinensis (Chinese citrus).The sweet orange was quickly adopted as a delicious and nutritious fruit, considered a highly desired luxury item, and wealthy people grew them in private conservatories, called orangeries. By 1646, the sweet orange was well known throughout Europe. The actual origin of the orangery is hard pinpoint, however their use came into fashion during the 17th Century in Holland and England enabling those colder regions to grow oranges indoors. It’s likely they actually date back as far as the Roman Republic, where there is evidence of rudimentary conservatory like structures. The first English orangery was built for Sir Francis Carew in 1580, at his home in Surry. 

Spaniards  introduced the sweet orange into South America and Mexico during  the mid-1500's, and probably the French took it to Louisiana. It was from New Orleans that seeds were obtained and distributed in Florida about 1872 and many orange groves were established by grafting the sweet orange onto sour orange root stocks. Arizona acquired the orange tree with the founding of missions between 1707 and 1710. The orange was brought to San Diego, California, by missionaries in 1769. An orchard was planted at the San Gabriel Mission around 1804. A commercial orchard was established in 1841 on a site that is now a part of Los Angeles. In 1781, a surgeon and naturalist on the ship, Discovery, collected orange seeds in South Africa, grew seedlings on board and presented them to tribal chiefs in the Hawaiian Islands on arrival in 1792. In time, the orange became commonly grown throughout Hawaii. The orange had completed it's travel around the world. Along with words and plants, stories traveled trade routes. Ever wonder why oranges are a Christmas stocking tradition? Many different sources tell a very old story about Saint Nicholas, who was born in a village on the shore of what is now part of Turkey but was then called Lycia around 270AD. He inherited a fortune, but spent his life helping the poor and the persecuted, and eventually became a bishop in the new Christian church at Myra. Bishop Nicholas learned of a poor man with three daughters who had no dowries and could not marry. Nicholas knew the old man was too proud to accept charity. Some versions say the father was threatening to prostitute his daughters. The next night Nicholas returned and tossed three bags of gold for the daughters' dowries through the chimney which happened to land in the stockings of the three maidens which they had hung to dry in front of the fireplace. (Some versions say the gold was contained in threes socks which he threw through the window.)

The bags of gold turned into balls of gold which began to be symbolized by oranges which at the time of these paintings were costly and luxurious fruits. Bishop Nicholas is often portrayed in pictures wearing red robes and miter and holding the staff of a bishop as well as holding three gold balls, gold coins, or pieces of fruit.

Nicholas lived into his 70s, died of natural causes, was canonized and made a saint.  St. Nicholas became, over time, our good friend Santa Claus. The saint is also known as St. Nicholas of Bari, because his bones were stolen by forty-seven sailors of the Italian city of Bari from his tomb in his church in Myra.

The idea of stealing the relics of St. Nicholas from Myra was proposed by the inhabitants of Bari as an effort to restore prestige to the city. In 1071 the Normans conquered the city of Bari so that it was no longer the capital of the Byzantine Province of Southern Italy and under control of the Turks.  Cities which possessed the relics of important saints not only were invested with spiritual blessings but blessed with tourists (pilgrims) which led to economic prosperity. During this time the name  “Nicholas” was the most common male name in Bari, second only to the name “John”. The Venetians had their Saint Mark, the Amafi had Saint Andrew so the citizens of Bari designed to steal the relics of St. Nicolas from Myra, not only because he was popular, but also because the Saint’s relics lay on the trade route to the city of Antioch in Syria where the merchants of Bari sailed to sell their grains and buy textiles.

Map of the main Byzantine-Muslim naval operations and battles in the Mediterranean, 7th–11th centuries. And so the plot thickened -  Apparently the Venetians were also conspiring to steal these relics as well. So the Barian merchants and sailors hurried to subvert the Venetians plan to also steal the relics of St. Nicholas, made haste to sail and moored in the inlet of Andriake, the ancient seaport of Myra. The Barians disguised themselves as pilgrims and were able to conceal their weapons under their robes as they crept toward the Church of St. Nicholas just outside of Myra. The monks who watched over the Saint’s body guided them to the Saint’s burial place. However, the monks soon figured out that the Barians intended to steal the relics, and so, one of the monks attempted to run off to warn the Myrians, but he was held at the church door by the Barian thieves. Whether or not the Barians were thieves or merely following St. Nicolas's instructions by vision remains open for questioning and depends upon who is telling the story. On 28 December 2009, the Turkish Government announced that it would be formally requesting the return of St Nicholas bones to Turkey from the Italian government. Turkish authorities have cited the fact that St Nicolas himself wanted to be and actually had been buried at his episcopal town of Myra and that his remains were illegally removed from his homeland.

Two young men (Matthew, a Barian, and Alexander, a Frenchman) forced open the slab of marble that covered the sarcophagus and lifted out the bones of St. Nicholas which were floating in the sacred “myrrh”. (another story for another time) Then, Matthew and Alexander handed the bones to the two ship priests, Lupus and Grimoaldus, and the relics were carried away to the ship accompanied by quiet chanting. By the time the townspeople of Myra arrived at the port, the ship was already sailing away. In their haste, the Barians left minor bones behind which were later collected by Venetian sailors during the first crusade and brought to Venice, where a church to St. Nicholas, the patron of sailors, was built on the Lido.  On May 9th, 1087 the ship carrying St. Nicholas relics arrived in Bari. However, the city authorities, Duke Roger Borsa and Prince Bohemund, were away in Rome for the coronation of Pope Victor III. The thieving party delivered the holy relics of Saint Nicholas into the hands of Elias, Abbot of the Monastery of St. Benedict. Two days later, the Archbishop Ursus, while en route from Canosa to Trani (to set sail for the Holy Land), learned about St. Nicholas’s relics arrival so he decided to come to Bari to procure them for himself as the city authorities were away at Pope Victor's crowning. The Archbishop decided the holy relics be better safeguarded in the cathedral, and sent his armed guards to collect them. The townspeople, however, were determined to defend the holy bones in order to dedicate a church in Bari to the Saint which was worthy of his holiness and fame. The people’s guards fought with the Bishop’s soldiers, a battle ensued; many were wounded and two or three young men lost their lives. Before the situation worsened, Abbot Elias managed to convince the Archbishop to renounce to his intentions and to donate the Catapan court site for the construction of the new church. Abbot Elias began the building of the sumptuous temple which remains, to this day, a fine example of the grandeur and beauty of Romanesque architecture. More than half of the bones of Saint Nicholas rest inside in an underground crypt.

Under the reign of Charles II the Lame (1285-1309), the Basilica was granted feudal rights which also contributed to its prosperity. The beautiful basilica has able to the withstand political adversity, remaining a busy center for pilgrims from all over the world including the Orthodox. Although this Basilica belongs to the Roman-Catholic church and is managed by the monks of the Dominican Order, priests of different Christian confessions are allowed to offer services in the crypt. 

As seeds, words and stories spread around the world and evolve, the orange hs become the most commonly grown tree fruit in the world. It is an important crop in the Far East, the Union of South Africa, Australia, throughout the Mediterranean area, and subtropical areas of South America and the Caribbean. The United States leads in world production, with Florida, alone, having an annual yield of more than 200 million boxes, except when freezes occur which may reduce the crop by 20% or even 40%. California, Texas and Arizona follow in that order, with much lower production in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. Unfortunately along with seeds, word, stories and ideas, disease and pests spread following the same routes. Because of the bubonic plague Myra lost one-third of its population to it in 542-3 AD. It wreaked havoc in the area for 200 years, from 542 AD to the last outbreak of this pandemic in 745 AD.  This was the same plague that reduced the population of Europe by about 50 percent by 600 AD and has been seen as the cause of the beginning of the Dark Ages in Europe. Carriers of the disease  traveling along the coast of Turkey were spread by the shipping trades to the west to Europe and to the south in Egypt, and by the return of Christian pilgrims from Palestine.  There have been three major outbreaks of plague. The Plague of Justinian in the 6th and 7th centuries which emptied out Myra is the first known outbreak on record, and marks the first recorded pattern of bubonic plague. Medical geneticists have suggested that all three of the great waves of the plague originated in China.  C. liberibacter, the bacterium that has all but annihilated Florida’s citrus crop, chokes off the flow of nutrients and are spread by Asian citrus psyllids that can carry the germ a mile without stopping, and the females can lay up to 800 eggs in their one-month life. It was first detected more than a century ago in China and has earned a place, along with anthrax and the Ebola virus, on the Agriculture Department’s list of potential agents of bioterrorism. - See more at:

Much in the same way as bubonic plague, the orange plague called Huanglonging disease, yellow dragon disease or more commonly citrus greening is being spread around the world. There is no known cure for this disease and may result in the decimation of  all citrus trees. The disease, which can lie dormant for two to five years, is spread by an insect no larger than the head of a pin, the Asian citrus psyllid. It snacks on citrus trees, depositing bacteria that gradually starves trees of nutrients. Psyllids fly from tree to tree, leaving a trail of bacterial infection the same way flees leave the bacterial infection known as bubonic plague on mammals. Since the modern world travels further and faster than the ancient world, disease spreads further and faster as well. 1919: First reported in southern China 1921: First report of disease in the Philippines, but it was thought to be related to zinc deficiency. 1928: A disease under the names, yellow shoot or greening depending on region, was observed in South Africa 1937: The first description of HLB in South Africa was assumed to be mineral toxicity 1941-1955: Most extensive work on greening in southern China was conducted 1960's: HLB first appeared in Thailand  The psyllids are thought to have arrived through the Port of Miami a ten years ago. The psyllid was first detected in California in 2008 and is now confirmed to be in San Diego, Imperial, Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange, Los Angeles, Ventura and Tulare Counties, resulting in quarantines and restricted areas. The Asian citrus psyllid has also been intercepted coming into California on plants shipped from other states or countries. California and Florida’s citrus industry (indeed the entire world of citrus) is grappling with this deadly threat. Some countries no longer have thriving citrus industries. Citrus greening has infected all 32 of Florida’s citrus-growing counties. In a 2012 report, University of Florida agricultural analysts concluded that between 2006 and 2012, citrus greening cost Florida’s economy $4.5 billion and 8,000 jobs.The disease is a tree killer. “The long and short of it is that the industry that made Florida, that is synonymous with Florida, that is a staple on every American breakfast table, is totally threatened,” said Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who helped obtain $11 million in federal money for research to fight the disease. “If we don’t find a cure, it will eliminate the citrus industry.”  Which means no more orange juice for us, not just orange juice, but limes, lemons, tangerines, all citrus fruit. Will oranges become extinct like the Myraians and Lycia? Will they remain part of a story in our memory like St. Nicholas? or will science be able to find a cure as it did with plague?

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