It wasn’t long after Columbus planted the first few orange groves on Hispaniola that explorers in general started to notice the virtues of freelance citriculture. A few orange seeds scattered here or there at some tropical port of call might make handy food stocks or even cash crops in later years, not to mention scurvy preventatives.
Columbus had Hispaniola, modern-day Haiti and Dominican Republic, covered. Literally. Hernando de Soto brought them to Florida. Later James Cook took them to Australia. George Vancouver, Cook’s shipmate and eventual explorer of the Pacific Northwest, planted the first few orange trees in Hawaii. However as I mentioned below, the earliest explorers planted only bitter oranges, which were the only variety they knew. It wouldn’t be until the mid-1500’s or so that sweeter Chinese oranges would enter Europe and by extension its colonies.
It’s not known how the first sweet oranges arrived in Europe. There’s evidence to suggest that Genoese traders acquired them by the mid-1400’s or even earlier. Whether these were truly “sweet” oranges or some sort of less-bitter variety of the oranges that Europeans already knew is a subject of some debate. What is known for sure is that a Portuguese naval officer and explorer by the name of João de Castro brought a truly sweet orange home to Lisbon in the 1540’s that set the entire fruit-eating world on fire.
The next century would see the rise of a global citrus-growing industry created to meet the demand of orange-mad Europeans and their colonists. An even larger botanical importation industry grew right alongside it as the Dutch and later English East India Companies raced back and forth from the Orient in search of new exotic plants with big-time commercial appeal.