Photo Fiona Sunquist ©
Citrus is big business in Florida. In the south and central portions of the state, much of the landscape is dominated by rows and rows of well-tended, dark green citrus fruit trees. Citrus is the State’s leading agricultural crop; 162 million boxes of fruit worth more than $1.4 billion were harvested in 2006-2007.
Spanish settlers brought the first oranges to Florida, probably for medicinal reasons. Spanish law required each sailor to carry 100 orange seeds with him and plant them when he reached land. At that time citrus was used to prevent scurvy, a disease caused by lack of vitamin C. (British sailors became known as limeys after the Admiralty issued orders for regular rations of limejuice.)
Florida’s first oranges were thought to have been planted near St Augustine. The warm climate, high rainfall and sandy soil combined to produce ideal growing conditions, and the trees soon spread. Within 200 years new settlers in Florida found thickets of ‘wild’ citrus and imagined it was a native plant. The first major expansion of the orange industry came in 1870s as farmers realized that Florida-grown fruit might replace the 2 million or so oranges imported every year from the Mediterranean. After 1900, citrus production moved from small, family-run groves to large-scale commercial production. Today, more than 96% of Florida’s orange crop is turned into juice.
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