Wednesday, December 7, 2022

The Parson Brown Orange

John Carney, you'll remember from the last club snoozeletter, bought the Carney Island property in 1875 which he gambled would be good to grow oranges as he had already seen some sour citrus growing there. He first cleared the heavy lumber and floated it across the lake to be sold for construction. Then all he had to do was find some good citrus cuttings. This turned out to be a problem as there was nowhere to buy any, no nursery, no Home Depot.

Carney learned the Reverend N.L. Brown near Webster had five different mature orange trees. One of these turned out to be sweet, prolific and produced early fruit. Carney purchased it for $80 and as he wasn't taking it with him, just buying the propagation rights, paid Mrs Brown, the reverends wife, $10 a year to make sure nobody would take cuttings or steal fruit for the seed.

Parson Brown Oranges
Carney cut back his sour trees and for several years grafted his new cuttings onto them, a process that would produce fruit more quickly than planting seed. Eventually he had twenty five acres of Parson Brown oranges, as he named them, and they became the most popular orange in Florida. The biggest trees could produce thousands of large sweet oranges to be harvested as early as October putting them in the groceries in time for Christmas.

A case of Lake Weirs famous Parson Brown oranges
packaged by the Carney Investment Co.
You can see Parson Brown trees on the north side of Sunset Harbor Road by Lake Weir. The fruit is big and sweet but it's seediness led to a loss of popularity in the 1920s when further genetic modification led to seedless varieties on smaller trees making them easier to harvest.

A prequel to this story: around 1860 a young family, their names long forgotten, decided to relocate from New Orleans to Florida with the idea of growing oranges. They brought with them Chinese citrus saplings which they had bought off a ship in New Orleans. On their journey they stayed one night with Rev Brown who refused payment but the travelers gave him a gift of five of their saplings which became the trees that Carney went to see.

By the way, Parson Brown used the $80 to buy sheep.

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