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B'siyata d'shmaya - With the help of Heaven


My Illegal Orange Tree, Witness to History



Orange trees line the streets of Andalucia. On one of my trips to Spain I took an orange from a tree in the Juderia, the old Jewish quarter of Cordoba. I brought it on the airplane, but it was confiscated by U.S. customs who prohibited, to my surprise, out of country fruit importation without a permit because of fruit flies (& maggots?) ! The customs guy said. "Next time just bring the seeds!" Ok, that didn't stop me, I was destined to grow a Cordoban orange tree from the Golden Age of Spain here in Florida. Next trip the following year I took an orange from the same tree, but this time deengineered it in the hotel room under the brilliance of a 40 Watt lightbulb. An incision was made around the diameter of the fruit, then a 1" razor blade was used to divide it into halves, then each segment was incised and the seeds were extracted and collected. They were placed in a used Ziplock sandwich bag complete with crumbs from its prior resident Then a scrap of paper tower and a few drops of water were added, the 6 seeds were then smuggled into the land of the free and the home of the brave.

About 1-2 Months in Florida

About 4-5 Months (I left the plant in this pot for a year and a half!
MUCH too long, the growth was restricted, so it grew slow.
Hey, I wanted to grow the tree, but I am not a horticulturist!


This is a primitive orange tree. The oranges the Muslims brought to Spain were very simple, and were not yet cultivated to produce a sweet orange. These oranges were rather sour (I ate one in Spain) but they are a nice size and color when mature. These trees have THORNS on them (see picture). I have yet to find out why, maybe all orange trees had them, and through cultivating and genetic engineering we removed the thorns? Anyway, now you know about my tree, come visit again in a few months and maybe he will have his first blossom!! Here is his birth certificate.

Thorns. If you know why it has thorns, please email me.

Here he is at about 2 years 2 months, in the GROUND for only 2 months.
He is taking off like a rocket. (No, it's not a money tree, it is there for scale).


I think what I have here is a "Seville Sour Orange."

I found the following on the Internet about such species:

The sour orange, also known as the Seville, bitter or bigarade, native to southeast Asia, differs from the sweet orange in the long thorns, winged stalk and stronger fragrance of its leaves, flowers and fruits which, generally inedible, contain many seeds. The oranges are available, depending on the variety, all winter long, from November to April. The pulp may be eaten fresh, in segments or in juices, or in salads and as garnishes. They can be cooked as ingredients in gourmet sweet and sour dishes. The orange is also used in beverages, liqueurs and candied fruit.

The sour orange is native to southeastern Asia. Natives of the South Sea Islands, especially Fiji, Samoa, and Guam, believe the tree to have been brought to their shores in prehistoric times. Arabs are thought to have carried it to Arabia in the 9th Century. It was reported to be growing in Sicily in 1002 CE, and it was cultivated around Seville, Spain, at the end of the 12th Century. For 500 years, it was the only orange in Europe and it was the first orange to reach the New World.

Spaniards introduced the sour orange into St. Augustine, Florida. It was quickly adopted by the early settlers and local Indians and, by 1763, sour oranges were being exported from St. Augustine to England. Sour orange trees can still be found in Everglades hammocks on the sites of former Indian dwellings.

In the proper climatic and soil conditions, the sour orange is self-maintaining and receives only a modicum of cultural attention. It has an extraordinary ability to survive with no care at all. Some trees in Spain are said to be over 600 years old and one tree in a tub at Versailles, which, of course, must be carefully tended, was reportedly planted in the year 1421.

All parts of the sour orange are more aromatic than those of the sweet orange. [This would explain why Cordoba smells like an Orange, everywhere you go!] The flowers are indispensable to the perfume industry and are famous not only for the distilled Neroli oil but also for "orange flower absolute" obtained by fat or solvent extraction.

It is estimated that of the current 150 million citrus trees in Spain 40%, or 60 million, are still on sour orange rootstocks.


I found the following article on the Internet from a UK newspaper. It was written by an (obvious) Sephardic man: Professor David Abulafia. Abulafia is an old Spanish Sephardic surname.

Sugar and spice
By David Abulafia
(Filed: 15/11/2001)

THE legacy of the Islamic conquests in Europe appears not just in the mosque at Cordoba but in the lemons we squeeze, the sugar we stir and the marzipan we savour.

A vast range of modern foods arrived in Europe from the Islamic world, reaching Sicily and Spain before penetrating deeper into Europe: sour (or Seville) oranges, limes, artichokes, bananas, aubergines, watermelon, spinach, rice.

Their origins often lay far to the East, in Persia or the Indies, but they were soon cultivated throughout the Muslim lands. Some were favoured by the early caliphs in Baghdad, setting new standards of elegant cuisine whose influence spread as far as Spain. The aubergine even had its praises sung in early Arabic poetry.

A Spanish Muslim wrote that "the prince must ensure that the greatest encouragement is given to the cultivation of the soil''. The spread of these crops transformed the countryside, necessitating massive irrigation projects to moisten the dry soils of the Middle East, north Africa and southern Spain. Superbly built underground ducts carried water across hills and prevented evaporation.

Settlers from as far away as Yemen taught the Spaniards how to create a lush countryside around Cordova, filled with orange groves. Palace gardens adorned with fruit trees, flowers and fountains were also seen as an image of Paradise.

It was not just upmarket food that was introduced by the Muslims. Paddy fields around Valencia produced rice, an Asiatic food exported as far as Plantagenet England, along with Majorcan figs, yet another product brought westwards by the Arabs. There was also hard wheat, milled into semolina out of which couscous and pasta were made.

From the Arabic name for noodles, fidawsh, came the Spanish name, fideos. The names of many other crops are of Arabic origin: the artichoke, in Spanish alcachofa, was the Arabic kharshuf, and was probably first cultivated in north Africa before its adoption in Spain.

But it was sugar that had most impact; its origins lie in the Far East, though it rapidly spread across the Islamic world. By 1400, Levantine sugar was eagerly traded by Italian merchants, who carried it to England, Flanders and Germany.

With the Turkish advance into Europe, these merchants became keener to buy their sugar further west, and sugar plantations were developed in Sicily, Muslim Granada and even in Madeira. Mixed with mountain snow and juices, sugar was the basis for sorbet or sherbet, which the crusaders encountered in the East.

The Muslim world was a great source of spices; pepper and ginger were carried along the shores of the Indian Ocean from the Spice Islands, and their sale to Christian merchants in Alexandria made the fortune of medieval Egypt. Until Vasco da Gama circumnavigated Africa in 1497, these products were only obtainable in Muslim territory, and were used to flavour food, in medicines and as dyes.

David Abulafia is Professor of Mediterranean History at Cambridge University