Mother Orange Tree, one of the survivors of the Gold Rush still lives in Oroville and is said to be the oldest orange tree in California! The tree is said to be more than 163 years old and first came to California from Mexico, where she was born. Judge Joseph Lewis planted this Mediterranean Sweet Orange sapling beside the tollbooth of the steel suspension bridge near Bidwell Bar (a goldmine).

The tree had a huge impact at Bidwell Bar as early-day miners would travel from both near and far to eat her oranges. They also used to gather the seeds and plant them in the yards of their homes. Due to this, several plants sprung up and within a decade, there were acres of orange trees that were planted and an entire generation of citrus farmers who earned and owed their livelihood because of Mother Orange.

Another person whose life the tree had an impact on was its long time caretaker, Issac Reeves, who became so fond of the tree that he requested to be buried near the tree. His remains were however shifted when the tree had to be moved from its original location due to inundation and to prevent it from being flooded under Lake Oroville.

The new location was supposed to be a temporary resting spot for the tree while the Bidwell Bar Bridge was rebuilt in a new location. However that did not happen for decades and it was decided to leave the tree where she was since she seemed to be doing well.

However, due to severe frosts, the Mother Orange Tree seemed to be on her last legs. The issues identified by Joe Connell were soil issues that were stressing the root structure. He helped set up a micro irrigation unit to bring the tree back to life and within a few years the tree was nursed back to her original health.

Now there are heat lamps and a portable greenhouse kept as a stand by in case of a sudden frost. The tree is now located at the California Parks and Recreation Department headquarters and if kept under optimal conditions, Mother Orange Tree will be around for hundreds of years! The orange tree has also been conferred with the status of State Historical Landmark, which was approved in 2005.

The Mother Orange Tree is known as a pioneer because of the impact it’s had on the area it was located at and its influence on the livelihoods of an entire generation of citrus farmers. In the fall of 2001, bud wood was collected from the Mother Orange Tree and was shipped to U.C Riverside who had agreed to propagate the tree. The trees that grew out of this have been planted all over and two of them have even been retained in the U.C Citrus Variety Collection. The Mother Orange Tree is one that has a great symbolic value and is ingrained into the history of the area. Besides, how many survivors of the Gold Rush still exist to this day?

 

Shubhalakshmi Bhattacharya

Shubhalakshmi Bhattacharya

Shubhalakshmi Bhattacharya is a student of law at O.P Jindal Global University. Her interests include intersections between literature/culture and society and international law.

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