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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Where did Citrus Originally Come From?

After a hundred years of Citrus prosperity in Florida, it’s hard to imagine oranges coming from anywhere but the Americas. Historically, however, citrus traveled an immense distance before finally arriving in the Indian River area.

Columbus introduced citrus to
The New World in 1493.
Citrus was actually introduced to The New World on November 22nd, 1493 by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the Americas. At the time, Citrus’ ability to cure scurvy wasn’t yet understood, so Columbus’ decision to bring it aboard was deliberately to test its ability to grow in the new soil along with other plants and livestock in what is now Haiti.

At the time, citrus fruit was a symbol of luxury and health in Europe, having spread over hundreds of years from the Middle East, China, and India along centuries-old trade routes. Before that, there isn’t a lot of historical information. Until recently, most historians agreed that citrus probably originated in Southeast Asia.

Left: Citron
Right: Pummelo
Scientists have since found clues in the genetic code of citrus that help them gaze back even further in time. Their research shows that all citrus fruits come from mutations of the citron, the pummelo, or hybrids of the two.

This, along with still more research suggests that these ancestors to the oranges and the grapefruits of today actually came from Southeast Asia’s neighbor, Australasia. This is the group of land masses which include Australia, New Guinea, and New Caledonia. Nobody is certain how they made the jump to Asia, but one of the more interesting ideas is that they simply floated there once they fell off of the trees along prehistoric ocean currents.

It’s interesting to think that thousands of years before Columbus braved the oceans to bring citrus fruits to America, they could have already spent untold hundreds of years on their own sea voyages without ever needing a boat.


References:
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