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There’s Something Fruity About Citrus States

There’s Something Fruity About Citrus States

You’re visiting your favorite online nursery, browsing through the citrus trees, when it happens. Suddenly, your eyes catch the most beautiful Meyer lemon tree! You just have to have it!

You’re currently a resident of Florida and citrus is everywhere, you’re tired of being left out, so you add the tree to your cart and proceed to check out.

Suddenly a dark cloud settles over you. The plant is restricted in your area.

But WHY can’t this tree ship to you? You live in Florida and there are citrus trees everywhere, so WHY can’t this tree come live with you? 

You begin to look at where the location of the tree you’re trying to order comes from. Upon closer inspection, you see that it comes from the other sunny state of California. Now you’re very confused. Why can’t I, in Florida, receive a citrus tree from California?

You may not know, but we do!

Two hanging lemons

But First, A History Lesson

The story of citrus and its shipping regulations began long before your attempt to add a variety to your garden. The beauty of citrus fruits has been gracing humanity throughout the world since roughly about 2,500 years ago. 

Originating from Southeast Asia the growth and development of citrus throughout the world has been strongly tied to its status of prominence and health.

In ancient times of Rome, the fruit was linked to both statuses of privilege and religious significance [1]. In addition, many cultures remarked on the miraculous healing properties of the fruits and even in the United States were a huge component of the expansion of the fruit. 

Infographic from the University of Florida on Florida Citrus

Citrus Growth in the Sunshine State

The first citrus fruit to arrive to the “New World” was via Christopher Columbus in 1493. It wouldn’t be until many decades later that citrus would make its way to Florida.

It’s believed in the mid-1500s that Spanish explorer, Ponce de Leon planted the first orange tree in St. Augustine, Florida [2].

The optimal climate of Florida allowed for the success of oranges throughout the state and has resulted in a $9 billion dollar industry. 

Florida now houses roughly 569,000 acres of citrus groves with more than 74 million citrus trees. That’s a lot, I mean, really, A LOT of citrus!

Through the 2018-2019 season, the University of Florida concluded that 9,181,000 cartons of citrus were packed. The economic contribution to the state of Florida was $6.5 billion dollars, with a tax share revenue of $139 million [3]

When it comes to drinking your orange and grapefruit juices, Florida is the state to thank! Unlike California, when it comes to fresh citrus juices, Florida provides the largest amount nationwide. 

Citrus Growth in the Golden State

In other citrus growing states like California, the citrus industry wouldn’t develop until much later. Seriously, much later. 

Almost 200 years after the first orange is planted in Florida, California finally gets its shot. In 1769 Father Junipero Serra planted the first citrus seed in Southern California [4].   

Less than 100 years later, in 1841, William Wolfskill planted the first commercial orchard of California in what is now the center of downtown Los Angeles [5].

Over the next 50 years, the citrus industry of California would rapidly expand. By 1885 the state had 2 million trees growing citrus.

Ten years later that number doubled and the state was growing 4.5 million trees. 

By the 2016-2017 growing season, citrus was valued at $3.389 billion dollars. While the overall economic contribution was $7.1 billion. The state of California’s GDP benefited $1.695 billion from the industry while the estimated wage contributions were $452 million dollars [7].

So next time, you slice up fresh limes, lemons, and oranges thank California! Unlike Florida, California is predominantly responsible for the fresh citrus fruits you buy at the store.

It’s All About the Growth Conditions

Around the world, growers plant and harvest citrus. The success of each plant isn’t determined solely by its genetics, but also by the environmental factors that nurture and stimulate the plant to keep it growing. 

Growing citrus requires ideal growth conditions that can only be found in certain growing regions.

As of 2016, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations found that 79% of the world’s citrus is grown in the Northern Hemisphere. The remaining 21% is grown in the Southern Hemisphere and predominantly comes from Brazil, who is the world’s largest citrus producer [6]

If you were to look at just a map of the locations for each of the regions that grow citrus you would quickly notice a pattern. No matter the country or location in the world, citrus regions are located in coastal regions.

In the U.S. our citrus growing region is known as the “Citrus Belt.” The region stretches along the southern coastal states and provides the ideal conditions for their citrus plantings.

Citrus is very specific to the type of conditions it prefers in order for it to be successful!

These conditions are sandy soil composition and no less than 50% sunshine daily. In addition, the planting location should have excellent soil drainage, and help protect the plants from wind.

several oranges or tangerines on a slate colored table top

Finally, Why You Can’t Ship Citrus From CA to FL

As we depicted at the beginning, it is common for purchasers of citrus plants to become easily confused about why they’re unable to receive a plant, based on where they’re located. With citrus growing in so many states, it only furthers the confusion when someone is told no, to something that grows practically in their own backyard.

But, what many people don’t know is that citrus for many decades has been battling a number of diseases spread specifically by the interstate/intrastate shipping of its plant.

Whether it’s a tree or a seed, the different parts of the citrus plants that have traveled are also the same pieces that threaten other citrus plants and their survial.

Currently, there are four different diseases that are widely regulated between states and countries to protect citrus plants. They are Huanglongbing or citrus greening, citrus canker, citrus black spot, and sweet orange scab.

Each of these diseases is different, but each of them also has the potential to wipe out citrus growth in the United States. 

This very threat to the citrus industry and the livelihoods of those who produce them has resulted in strict legislation passed both on federal and state levels to preserve the citrus industry. 

The legislation and regulatory efforts are made in hopes to prevent the spread of diseases through quarantine, inspection, and eradication efforts. Each of the listed diseases leaves the fruits either susceptible to different forms of stunting or to poor fruit quality resulting in it being unmarketable.  

As we’ve learned in recent months with the spread of COVID-19, diseases have the potential to spread rapidly, and unknowingly.

These dangerous factors are why it is so important to keep citrus trees in safe spaces!

The USDA advises that if you’re growing citrus at home it is best to keep the fruit and plants at home away from potential diseases, and away from healthy plants in case yours unknowingly has a disease.

Another important consumer request from the USDA is to acknowledge the quarantined counties and areas throughout the country where citrus diseases are being isolated [8]. Don’t try to move fruit or plants from infested/infected areas and know that it’s for the good of the fruit.


How You Can Help

These citrus diseases are a stark reminder of the power of contamination and just how easy it can occur. These diseases were spread mostly by unchecked, unregulated plants throughout history. Now decades later, a number of people are threatened by the loss of citrus.

How can you help?  

When ordering citrus online or in person, remember to buy from distributors and growers who are compliant within their regulations.

How will you know if they’re compliant? Compliant growers and distributors will have no problem discussing with you the safety precautions followed and the certifications that the plants adhered to, in order to be sold. 

In addition to asking about their compliance efforts, take the time to learn about your local quarantine regulations. Knowing whether or not your county is under quarantine for citrus can help you prevent the spread of disease.

Another great way? 
Ask if they used Plant Sentry!

We pride ourselves on our compliance and regulatory efforts throughout the industry.

While we work with a number of clients who grow and sell citrus, we, unfortunately, don’t cover everyone in the industry. Be sure to ask the next time you purchase a lemon tree or other citrus varieties if they were checked using Plant Sentry


Citations:

[1] Holland, B. (2017, July 31). How Citrus Fruits Became an Ancient Status Symbol. Retrieved August 28, 2020, from https://www.history.com/news/how-citrus-fruits-became-an-ancient-status-symbol

[2] Facts About Florida Oranges & Citrus. (n.d.). Retrieved August 28, 2020, from https://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/eat-drink/facts-about-florida-citrus-oranges.html

[3] Economic Contributions of the Florida Citrus Industry in 2018-19. (2020, August 18). Retrieved August 28, 2020, from https://www.floridacitrus.org/newsroom/news/economic-contributions-of-the-florida-citrus-industry-in-2018-19/

[4] Lee, S. (n.d.). The history of citrus in California. Retrieved August 28, 2020, from http://www.californiabountiful.com/features/article.aspx?arID=695

[5] Geisseler, D., & Horwath, W. R. (2016, June). Citrus Production in California [PDF]. California Department of Food and Agriculture Fertilizer Research and Education Program. https://apps1.cdfa.ca.gov/FertilizerResearch/docs/Citrus_Production_CA.pdf

[6] Citrus Fruit Fresh and Processed Statistical Bulletin 2016. (2016). Retrieved 2020, from http://www.fao.org/3/a-i8092e.pdf

[7] Babcock, B. A. (n.d.). Economic Impact of California’s Citrus Industry. Retrieved 2020, from https://citrusresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/Economic-Contribution-of-California-Citrus-Industry21.pdf

[8] Yigzaw, P., Runciman, D., Gateley, D., Burchard, J., C., D., Trees, O., . . . Eldridge, M. (2020, August 12). Citrus Trees: Move It AND Lose It. Retrieved August 28, 2020, from https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2014/08/25/citrus-trees-move-it-and-lose-it