Why do Navel Oranges have navels?
Fresh naval oranges are a terrific snack. They are, easy to peel, easy to section, and seedless. They have a refreshing flavor, are juicy, and are filled with vitamins that make them a healthful snacking choice.
The Navel in the Navel
The navel orange can be easily distinguished from other oranges by the small bellybutton-like appendage at the apex of the fruit where it was cut the tree during the time of harvest. According to orange historian Vince Moses who lived in Riverside, CA, the cute little sections you can find hiding and tucked in the center when you cut open a sweet navel orange are actually a second, undeveloped navel fruit. The cause of this bizarre creation is mutation that caused the fruit to not just be seedless, but to have a rudimentary fruit that looks very similar to a human-navel, thus the name.
Where it all started
Navels are seedless mutations and have no way to reproduce in any normal way. Mother Nature requires a little bit of help from nurserymen to graft sprouted buds onto other compatible citrus trees’ trunks and roots. But where did it come from initially?
Oranges, like other citrus cultivars, have a tendency to make hybrids and the navel is no different. It was first discovered around mid-1800s growing on a branch of a sour orange tree in a monastery garden in Brazil. The Presbyterian missionary who discovered the odd fruit was intrigued by the bellybutton formation, the sweet taste, and the lack of seeds. He then started to make cuttings and used some little trees, which he sent to William Saunders in the United States.
All the navel trees planted in the United States came from that one tree from Brazil and all the navels you now enjoy, including the red navel orange, are clones from that one mutation.
Prone to Mutation
Navels keep evolving and spawning hybrids and this causes the navel orange size to differ according to their variety. Typically navels are medium in size but there are some large navel orange varieties like the Skaggs Bonanza.
One other wonderful mutation that came from a navel orange tree is the Cara Cara or red navel. Their outward appearance is very similar to regular navels, but once you cut one open you will see the distinct red-pink flesh that is Cara Cara’s alone.