What is a Navel Orange?

Mary McMahon

A navel orange is a special type of orange which has a little surprise inside once it is peeled: a partially formed undeveloped fruit like a conjoined twin, located at the blossom end of the fruit. From the outside, the blossom end is reminiscent of a human navel, leading to the fruit's common name. These oranges are cultivated primarily in Brazil, California, Arizona, and Florida, and they are among the most common and popular of orange varieties.

In the U.S., navel oranges are grown in California, Arizona, and Florida.
In the U.S., navel oranges are grown in California, Arizona, and Florida.

You may know the navel orange as a Washington, Riverside, or Bahia Navel Orange. If you're in a formal mood, you can call it by its scientific name, Citrus sinensis. This orange varietal is the result of a single mutation which occurred on a plantation in Brazil in 1820. The mutation led to the formation of a conjoined twin enclosed within the rind of a seedless orange, and it proved to be a hit, so people began cultivating it in other regions. The first American location of cultivation was Riverside, California, explaining the alternate name of “Riverside Orange.”

Navel oranges are frequently added to fruit salads.
Navel oranges are frequently added to fruit salads.

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Because the navel orange is seedless, it can only be propagated through cuttings. Technically, every one of these oranges comes from the same orange tree; the Brazilian orange which generated a spontaneous mutation hundreds of years ago. Orange farmers take cuttings from their orange trees and graft them onto fresh stock periodically to ensure that their orchards stay healthy, and also for the purpose of expansion.

Cara cara oranges, a type of navel orange.
Cara cara oranges, a type of navel orange.

The flesh of a this type of orange is sweet and naturally very juicy. A rare varietal called the Cara Cara orange has a faint hint of strawberries, and flesh which is reddish pink, rather than more classically orange. Navel oranges can be eaten out of hand, juiced, used in fruit salads, or turned into jams and preserves, depending on personal taste.

Fresh navel oranges are available from the winter through the late spring, depending on the region. When selecting them at the market, look for oranges which feel heavy for their size, with no soft spots or obvious mold and pitting. If you live in USDA zones nine-11, you can also grow navel oranges yourself. Many nurseries sell orange trees for this purpose, along with a variety of other citrus fruits, if you want to create a small citrus garden. In addition to yielding edible fruit, many citrus trees also have very aromatic flowers, making them a pleasant addition to the garden.

The Valencia orange ripens later than navel oranges.
The Valencia orange ripens later than navel oranges.

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Discussion Comments

anon320628

I'm confused. People keep on saying that a navel orange is seedless, but when I ate a navel orange, I found four tiny seeds inside of the orange.

anon320627

Are there any seeds inside a navel orange?

anon315887

I ate a navel orange yesterday and it had two seeds in it, so I have the same question as anon268181.

anon268181

Lately I have gotten navel oranges that have a single seed in each orange. Why?

anon210182

A seedless navel orange grows because seeds aren't necessary for an individual fruit to continuing growing. What a seedless navel orange *cannot* do is reproduce on its own. That's when a fertile seed would be necessary. The same orange trees grow new seedless oranges every year, so they don't need to be replanted all the time.

The short answer for anon170667's child's question is that navel oranges really didn't exist in nature (not commonly, anyway) before human procedures like grafting and cross-breeding were invented. Some natural orange varieties had fewer seeds than others, and those varieties were crossbred with each other until the result was a orange with no seeds. This sort of thing does not happen in nature very often-- it's the result of human intervention and years of creating oranges with fewer and fewer seeds.

anon205189

how does the navel orange grow if it doesn't contain seeds? I'm confused.

anon170667

My child has a question to ask which I do not know how to answer.

Many sources said that navel oranges propagate by grafting. The question is how it propagate naturally (before man knew anything about grafting)? Is it possible?

anon53650

Our navel orange tree has large fruit, but they are woody inside and do not seem to fill up with juice - any advice?

Jeffery1956

my girlfriend has two navel orange trees she planted in large pots, recently moved into much larger containers. for at least the past 2 years, her trees have had many fruit but seem to drop near all of them, last year only having 6 oranges to mature. so far one tree has dropped all oranges and the other has only 7 left to date. Can you tell what may be happening!! We live in Pensacola, Fla.

thanks in advance and hope you can help.

catapult43

One variety of Navel oranges are Cara Cara oranges. I have learned that this orange is a mutation on Washington navel orange. It found its way to California where the sunny, dry climate suited this type of orange. This is a tasty, juicy, sweet orange, with deep pink flesh.

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