The navel orange is one of California's precious resources; it's a superb dessert orange that's not grown commercially anywhere else in the United States. Large and colored a beautiful deep hue, it has a rich flavor and is seedless and easily peeled and broken into segments.
The navel orange was brought to California in 1873 from Bahia, Brazil. Its arrival in Riverside heralded the birth of the commercial citrus industry in California. Today, one of every three trees originally planted in Riverside is alive, well and still producing fruit. Although the prime commercial growing area for navel oranges is the southeastern San Joaquin Valley, they thrive in much of the Southland.
The trees yield a bountiful crop of fresh fruit in a small area. What's more, they are highly ornamental--glossy, evergreen foliage spotted with beautiful orange fruit and white, delightfully scented blossoms. For home gardeners without enough room for a full-size tree, a semi-dwarf is also available. Standard navels reach a height of between 18 and 25 feet, while semi-dwarfs grow to only 7 to 12 feet. Both sizes are available in cans year-round at many nurseries and garden centers.
There are several varieties to choose from. The oldest--the Riverside original--is the 'Washington' navel. Commercial growers consider it not only the choicest for eating but also the best-producing variety available. Its fruit-bearing period begins in mid-December and continues through April or May; peak sweetness occurs after mid-January.