Shamouti Oranges

February 22, 2018

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Photographer: Menashe Davidson 
Summary Author: Menashe Davidson 

Shown above in the top photo are Shamouti oranges in the citrus grove of my orchard in Sharon, Israel. Flowering in spring, the oranges mature in early winter. In mid-December, the eve of the harvest season, as I observed these oranges I thought about the controversial issue of genetic engineering. On the one hand, genetic engineering has the potential advantage of producing plants having features desired by the farmer and or the consumer. On the other hand, there are some potential risks, for example, inserted genes may have unexpected harmful effects. But it should be noted that nearly all of our domesticated plants (and animals as well) are forms of natural genetic engineering -- practices having a very long history that is now widely accepted in society.

The Shamouti orange history demonstrates this quite well. The Shamouti is a result of a naturally occurring mutation, a surprise of nature without any involvement of humans. This variety originated from the mutation of a single bud of a native Baladi (local) orange tree in the 1840s, in an orchard near present-day Jaffa, Israel. But instead of a rounded, seedy fruit that was hard to peel (the Baladi), the mutation (later called Shamouti) had an oval shape, was seedless, had a more pleasing taste and aroma, was easier to peel and had a longer shelf life (bottom photo). Since the propagation of citrus trees is vegetative, producing new Shamouti trees that are identical to the long ago mutated parent could be accomplished by grafting. The Shamouti variety is an ideal orange to grow commercially, for fresh consumption as well as processing.