Polk County, Florida



Sometime before the discovery of America, the sour orange—the brigerade—was introduced into Italy, and a short time thereafter it was carried to Spain. The Spaniards brought this variety to Florida. The sweet orange was then unknown in Europe. Doubtless the Spanish Catholic missionaries first distributed the seed of the brigerade—frequently called the Seville—orange in the vicinities of the Spanish forts and missions. As the fruit multiplied, the seeds were scattered by the Indians along the banks of the rivers, near their camping grounds, usually points projecting into the rivers. Thence they were scattered throughout the State of Florida.

The largest of those wild orange groves, twenty and fifty years ago, were found along the eastern and southern shores of rivers and lakes, and in the hammock and swamp lands of Florida. In addition to the protection from damage by the frosts to the young plants afforded by the water, the hammock and swamp lands gave protection against fires, which annually swept over the pine woods, destroying the slow-growing trees. Some of these wild groves were, fifty years ago, cut down and the land cleared for planting corn, cotton and cane. This was repeated as late as twenty-five years ago, before the monetary value of the orange was appreciated in this country.

One hundred years after America was discovered, the sweet orange was introducted into Europe. Later it was brought to Florida, and a few trees were planted in St. Augustine, and afterwards in the settlements along the St. Johns and Indian Rivers. The pollen of the sweet orange fertilizing the flowers of the sour, produced the hybrid "bitter-sweet." At the close of the civil war small plantations of sweet oranges were found throughout the State; consisting usually of a few trees growing around dwellings. There were a few groves of larger size, ranging from founr hundred trees to nine hundred, in the vicinity of St. Augustine and along the St. Johns River. The largest in the State was planted by Dr. Speer, at Fort Reed, near Mellonville, and the Dummitt grove on Indian River.

About the time Dr. Speer planted his grove quite an interest in orange growing sprang up in Florida and many groves were planted along the banks of St. Johns. But in an evil hour fresh plants of the orange from China were introduced and planted at Mandarin. They were infected with the scale insect. The trees in the vicinity of Mandarin were the first destroyed by the insect. At that time the hundred and one natural enemies of the scale insect had not come to the rescue of the orange grower as now; besides, the orange grower of that time did not know of modern appliances and remedies. The scale spread from grove to grove, and in a short time sweet and sour orange trees yielded to the invading host of foreign enemy. The frost of 1835 having cut down the trees, from the effect of which the old trees were beginning to recover when the scale commenced its ravages, combined to produce the impression among the old settlers that the orange prospect was forever blasted.

At the close of the war, many of the old trees, both sweet and wild, had recovered from the effects of both insects and frost, and were bearing liberal crops of such fruits as travelers from all parts of the world had never before eaten. The fruit sold at good prices. Some of those who had lately come into the State thought there was a living in an orange grove. Land was bought and planted in wild sour stumps. Seed beds were planted for nursery stock and acres were set with young plants. We were told that by the time our trees were ready to bear we would be in another country where there would be no need of planting. We answered, then we would plant for our children. We were told that by the time the trees were full bearing oranges would not be worth picking in Florida. Though some of us were threatened with the lunatic asylum, we still persisted in planting and cultivating the orange. The evil prophecy failed. Other persons caught the orange fever, until finally the old prophets were converted and to-day our most enthusiastic orange growers. To-day hundreds of thousands of trees are growing, and tens of thousands more of plants are ready to be set in groves.


The question now comes up, will not the business be overdone? We answer no. With the small area within the United States capable of producing oranges this will be impossible. Canada and the United States are rapidly increasing in population and these alone could consume the entire product from the orange-growing sections of the United States. But the Florida orange is the finest grown and will ultimately command the markets, of Europe as well as America.

Occasionally already a glut in the market has occurred, but this has been in each instance the result of (mainly) a double fault of the producers. They have attempted to narrow the marketing season to three or four months, when it should be extended over from eight to twelve months. Oranges will remain on the trees in good condition six months after they have turned yellow. Properly handled and cured they will keep several months after they have been clipped. The Florida season for marketing, like the European, should embrace the entire year. The second mistake to which allusion is made was the result of the destructive hurry peculiar to Americans. The fruit was gathered green, carelessly handled, packed without being properly cased, much of it infested with fungi and then gathered, packed and shipped, through all sorts of weather. Such fruit rapidly spoiled. Careless handling of transportation companies added to the disaster, and hence the merchants had to sell what sound fruit might reach them at low prices or throw it away.

Orange culture will pay beyond any other agricultural pursuit, even should the price fall to 75 cents per box. When reduced to that price fifty million boxes would not over-supply the present population of the United States and Canada. There are thirty States producing apples and peaches, and yet both these crops, which have to be marketed within a few weeks or months, are grown with profit. With such facts before us, we have no fear as to the over-production of the orange.


To those engaged in the business, orange growing is truly fascinating. The beauty of the tree, the beauty and fragrance of the flower, challenge all rivalry among ornamental trees and beautiful flowers. The æsthetic cultivator becomes a true lover of his sweet and beautiful pet, which he looks upon as a relic and reminder of paradise. But when this beauty is accompanied with useful, golden and gold-bearing fruit, affording a living, and promising all other material luxuries, then the lover appreciates his orange grove only less than he appreciates his wife, who has brought to him not only the accomplishments of a sweet and cultivated woman, but with herself an ample fortune. And though he may have waited as long as Jacob did for his Rachel, he does not regret the toil and waiting since the reward is ample. I do not know but that the toil and waiting demanded by the orange does not increase the ardor of the planter, and increase his pleasure when once the tree has been brought to full beauty and bearing, for we love best those that need to be courted earnestly in order to be won. When thus won we feel that the bride is the more fully our own.


Does the reader wish to know how to win this fair bride, clad in nature's richest green, adorned with golden globes, crowned with fragrant orange blossoms—her own fair crown, so often plucked for other bridal wreaths? Did space permit in this full sheet of the Times-Union, further writing would not be necessary, for are not all these things written in the books of the chronicles of many writers on "Orange Culture" from Maine to Texas? These have all written you about the seed-bed, the nursery, the planting, suitable locations, the gathering and the shipping.


The past season was about six hundred thousand boxes; the present year the crop may reach a million boxes. The crop of 1868 only reached a few thousand packages, and had so slow a sale that it had to be extended to as late as May to find buyers. The price prevailing at that time was $7.50 per thousand. The price has gone up with the production. During next May, if they can be found outside of New York, the Florida orange will sell for not less than $4.50 to $5 per box.


The excellence of the Florida orange is now so generally known that many other oranges are sold under that same name. The writer knows no way to avoid this imposition except to stamp each orange grown in Florida with the inimitable Florida trade mark. No other country has yet produced the russet. The brown tinge mars the beautiful golden color, but it makes the orange bearing this stamp all the sweeter, and, like Caesar's wife, above suspicion. Nature has thus given us an impost protection against foreign competition, which the Government cannot take off. What goddess or nymphy was it that covered herself with soil to save herself from violence? She was the sweeter and safer because of her soiled exterior. So with the orange. The dingy russet is best.

—Exposition Number Florida Times-Union.

[Source: Homeland; a description of the climate, productions, resources, topography, soil, opportunities, attractions, advantages, development and general characteristics of Polk County, Florida. By Sherman Adams, 1885.; Tigner, Tatum & Company, Bartow, Florida. Transcribed by Sheila Pitts Massie, Coordinator.]


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