Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Mother Orange Tree, Oroville, California

Last Saturday, Woodley and I had the opportunity to drive up to Oroville, California to visit my Aunt Barbara, my cousin Kattyln, and Kattyln's son Jacob who were visiting from Oklahoma. Aunt Barbara's mother lives in Oroville so they come out from time to time to visit. This was the first time Woodley and I had been up that far north in the central valley. Before we left, we read up on Oroville and discovered that it has three very interesting attractions. 

The first is the Feather River. Kattlyn and Aunt Barbara had gone kayaking along the river the day before our visit and they had hoped to take us with them for another kayaking trip. We were very excited about that possibility. However, a combination of rain, wind, and timing disrupted that plan. We did get to see the river on our way out of town though. 

The second interesting attraction is the Oroville Dam. According to Wikipedia it is "one of the 20 largest dams in the world, the largest earth filled dam in the US, as well as the tallest dam in the US. Kattlyn's grandfather told us how he had worked on the dam after high school. 

The third, and in our opinion, most interesting attraction of Oroville is "The Mother Orange Tree." What exactly is a "Mother Orange Tree?" you may be wondering (as I was wondering when I first read about it). Apparently it is the oldest of all northern Californian orange trees. As the story goes, it was brought to California on a shipping vessel from Mazatlan, Mexico. It came around Cape Horn and up to Sacramento, CA where it was purchased by Judge Joseph Lewis in 1856. He then planted it next to the Bidwell Bar Bridge in Oroville. At that time, Oroville was a popular place for miners (Bidwell Bar being one of the first gold mining sites in California) and the miners would savor the flourishing orange tree's fruit and save the seeds to plant later. The Mother Orange Tree, which was a novelty when it first arrived in northern California, proved that citrus trees actually could thrive in the northern California climate and thus started the fabulous northern California orange industry. 

The Mother Orange Tree has been transplanted twice in its illustrious history and now resides next to the California State Park Headquarters in Oroville. We read on Wikipedia that the tree had grown to a height of over 60 feet tall. I don't know about you, but we had never seen an orange tree taller than maybe 15 feet so we were very excited about the prospect of seeing a 60 foot tall tree. 

After a fabulous lunch made for us by Kattlyn's grandfather (delicious ribs, baked beans, potatoes, coleslaw, bread, a green salad, and iced tea!), we headed out with Aunt Barbara, Kattlyn, and little 1 year old Jacob to find this Mother Orange Tree.

After a bit of wandering we finally stumbled upon the Park Headquarters. I had expected some grand entryway with the the stately, huge, orange tree at the top of a set of stairs or at least surrounded by a pavilion. I was therefore surprised to see the tree off to the side of the parking lot surrounded by a small fence. If you didn't know to look for it, it would be a very easy thing to pass by completely. Up the hill from the tree there was a plaque to commemorate its grand history: 

However, even more unexpected, was the size of the tree. Perhaps it was once 60 feet tall or perhaps Wikipedia was completely mistaken, but the tree is now around 16 feet. Bigger than most orange trees I've seen, but definitely a far cry from 60 feet! Here it is:

It was, however, producing beautiful orange fruit and it still was the oldest orange tree in California so we were very excited to see it anyways. Since there weren't any signs prohibiting us from picking the fruit, Woodley used his long arms to great advantage and plucked us two oranges.

We ate them later that afternoon and they were absolutely delicious! It was very fun to think we were sampling oranges so similar to the ones the miners ate as they searched for gold along the river over 150 years ago. 

One other interesting fact about The Mother Orange Tree is that it was struck by a sever frost in 1998 resulting in a decay fungus that hollowed out part of the trunk and caused the tree to stop bearing fruit for a few years. This worried everyone so, in order to preserve the precious Mother Orange, scientists at The University of California, Riverside cloned The Mother Orange Tree in 2003. So now there are a couple of copies of the tree sprinkled throughout Oroville. 

After seeing the tree, we headed over to check out the dam. We were able to drive all along it and it was very tall. There was a beautiful view from the top. After that we just had time to drop by the visitor center before they closed for the day. From there we got some good pictures, including this one of the dam: 

The walk to the visitors center. Such an interesting variety of flora exists in that area. I thought it was beautiful! 

Here's a picture of the lake created by the dam. The red dirt is very beautiful against the blue water and the green trees. 

Inside the visitor center there was a fun diorama of wildlife and some scenes of the Native American population who used to live in that are. I would definitely recommend a visit to the center if you ever happen to be in Oroville. 

It was so much fun visiting with Aunt Barbara and cousin Kattlyn, and getting to meet Jacob for the first time in person was wonderful. He is such a jolly little boy who is so full of energy. We are hoping to get out to Oklahoma to visit them again this coming Christmas!


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