Those interested in seeing the tree that many believe is responsible for launching California’s successful citrus industry should take a trip to the Inland Empire.
In Riverside, standing on the corner of the intersection between Magnolia and Arlington Avenue — now lost in relative obscurity — is the Parent Washington Navel Orange Tree.
The tree is one of two from which all California Navel Oranges have descended; the other died in 1921 after being transplanted to the Mission Inn in 1903. The trees came to Riverside in 1873, sent to Eliza Tibbets by William Saunders of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from Washington D.C., after originating in Bahia, Brazil. The fruit they produced were large, sweet, flavorful, seedless, and immediately became legendary.
Even though orange trees were planted in California prior to 1873, it was the birth of the navel orange variety in Riverside that sparked a citrus revolution. The citrus rush created a plethora of jobs and opportunities in agriculture, which drew attention to California’s sunny climate. As a result, hundreds of thousands of migrants and tourists came to the West Coast.
This single tree which still bears fruit was planted 136 years ago and spawned generations of other navel orange trees from its buds. It stands today in a fenced area flanked by another orange tree and a Marsh grapefruit tree, in a very unassuming location. Visitors are encouraged to appreciate the important role this Parent Tree has played in shaping the Southern California we know today.