The orange is an evergreen, rounded tree with regular branches. It grows some 5-10 metres tall after 25 years. The leaves are dark green and waxy, of medium size and oval-oblong in shape. The flowers are white, small, but fragrant.
Choose firm, glossy fruit that are heavy for their size, which is indicative of good juice content. While a bright orange skin colour is certainly attractive, it is not a sure guide to quality. Oranges having a partially green peel are just as juicy and sweet.
Avoid puffy, spongy or shrivelled oranges, which are light in weight, lacking juice and of poor quality. Decay is indicated by soft surface areas, which may also be slightly discoloured.
Orange palatability does not improve after harvest, as no starch reserves are available for conversion to sugars. Therefore, maturity at harvest is critical if high quality is to be achieved. Oranges are less susceptible to mechanical damage than most other fruits and vegetables. They can be stored for relatively long periods at ambient conditions. Optimum temperature maintenance is far less critical with oranges than for most other products.
Decaying oranges emit relatively high amounts of ethylene therefore storage with ethylene-sensitive products such as bananas should be avoided.
Eat fresh, or cut into segments and use in fruit and vegetable salads, compotes, with chicken, duck, pork or ham. They may be incorporated into desserts or pies. Use juice and grated rind in cakes, breads, biscuits, sherbets, ice cream and cake icings, or as a sauce for both savoury and sweet dishes. Try orange juice or sauce over chicken and meats or as a topping for ice cream or fruit.
The range of climatic conditions suitable for growing oranges varies with the condition and age of the tree, not forgetting to mention the variety requirements. Generally, however, if the trees are well supplied with soil moisture, oranges can tolerate high temperatures but are generally sensitive to frost. Sheltered, warm, sunny sites are best for citrus plantings.
Orange trees need well drained soil and prefer loams and sandy loams to heavier or lighter textured soils. The orchard site should be protected against strong winds to prevent wind scarring, which downgrades the fruit. Autumn and winter are the best times for planting orange trees and both irrigation and regular fertilisation are essential for good growth and profitable crops.
The orange is believed to have originated in India, Siam or southern China. It is a fruit, which was known to the Romans, and was cultivated widely around the Mediterranean.