RIVERSIDE, Calif — Gold brought early settlers to California, but it was citrus that made many failed miners rich. It's something everyone can learn about at the California Citrus State Historic Park in Riverside.
“It practically made California the second gold rush,” said Mary Mar Mendoza, park interpreter.
The California citrus story is a long one that starts on the Silk Road in Asia.
“Back then, it was more of a spice, a way to preserve rotting food,” Mendoza said.
The sour fruit eventually made its way on Spanish ships to prevent scurvy and ultimately landed in South America where missionaries forced indigenous people to grow them.
“It was the dark side of citrus,” Mendoza said.
Seed by seed, citrus of all kinds made it's way north into what is now California. Before long, fur traders and emigrants like Eliza Tibbets started planting orchards of their own.
“Eliza is who we call the 'mother of the Navel oranges',” Mendoza said.
First planted in Riverside in 1873, the navel orange became an instant favorite.
“Yes, it was the first seedless orange,” Mendoza said.
Riverside became the mecca for citrus of all kinds and packing companies used iconic labels to catch the attention of east coast buyers.
Mendoza said premium oranges were wrapped in protective paper and some were sold for a dollar an orange.
Through cross-pollination, citrus of all kinds were developed, and today, more than 70 different varieties of historic citrus are preserved in the park's 250-acre orchard. Park staff also provide samples of the historic citrus for visitors to taste.
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