Have you ever wondered why Miami has a football game called the Orange Bowl? Or why Orlando has a stadium called the Citrus Bowl? Or why the color orange can be seen in a number of logos throughout the state. For many years, rows of stately citrus trees have become an iconic symbol of Florida’s landscape and history, but have you ever wondered how this connection was first established?
Citrus Before Florida
Believe it or not, citrus was not invented in the “Sunshine State”. Citrus has its origins in Asia where it is believed to have been found in subtropical regions. In terms of oranges, the Chinese cultivated many varieties of the fruit over several centuries before being introduced to the western world. In 310 B.C., citrus was brought to Europe by traders on routes from Asia. Various types of citrus fruit were developed over the years in Europe, including the sweet oranges, sour oranges, lemons, a precursor to the grapefruit called a pummelo.
The Story of Citrus in Florida
While Christopher Columbus brought citrus to the Americas in 1493, it was not introduced to Florida until sometime between 1513 and 1565 by Spanish settlers. The grapefruit was brought to Florida in the early 1800s by French Count, Odet Philippe.
Over time, citrus experienced a tremendous boost in popularity as groves began to pop up throughout the state and people moved down in the hopes of striking it rich. To the point, citrus became a central part of how the state was promoted to people in the northern part of the United States. This led to an explosion in citrus farming that peaked in 1893 when 5 million boxes of citrus was being produced.
In 1894 and 1895, the citrus industry plummeted as a freeze reduced the harvest to under 200 boxes and killed most of the trees. The industry adjusted with time through moving many groves to the southern part of Florida and developing techniques to better resist a freeze. By the early 1900’s, Florida began producing over 10 million boxes per year and has never looked back.
Citrus in Florida Today
Today, Florida is the world’s second largest producer of oranges and the largest producer of grapefruit. Polk County leads the way in citrus production in Florida. The industry produces 77.9 million boxes of fruit on 437,000 acres of land. The citrus industry employs over 45,000 people and generates $8.6 billion for the state’s economy.