Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Flora of Eagle Rock: Sweet orange, or Citrus sinensis

Orange tree on Hill Drive
The history of the orange tree -- specifically, the sweet orange, or Citrus sinensis, -- reads like a miniature history of the world.  The tree appears to have been domesticated in Asia, Southeast Asia, and/or South Asia roughly 2500 years ago.  It seems clear that widespread domestication of the tree first took place in China.  (Indeed, the sinensis in the species name means "Chinese.")  From Asia, the fruit was brought back to Europe, by various means, including the Silk Road, trade with Arabs, crusades, etc. -- the history of its introduction to Europe seems a bit murky.

The orange was spread from Europe to the Americas by the Spanish.  Columbus brought orange seeds over to North America in 1493.  The first orange orchard in California was reportedly planted by Spanish missionaries at Mission San Gabriel in 1804.  [Wikipedia.]

The origin of the term "orange" in English ultimately links back to the Sanskrit word for "orange tree" (नारङगम्, nāraṅga).  The Sanskrit word came through Persian نارنگ (nārang) and its Arabic derivative نارنج (nāranj). The word entered Late Middle English in the fourteenth century via Old French orenge (from pomme d'orenge).  The French word, in turn, comes from Old Provençal auranja, based on Arabic nāranj -- which goes back to the Sanskrit.  [Id.]  (The French word presumably came over into English when William the Bastard led the Norman invasion of England in 1066 and William got to change his name to William the Conqueror.)

Because Portuguese merchants were among the first to introduce the sweet orange in Europe, in several European languages the fruit was named for the Portuguese: e.g., Albanian portokall, Bulgarian портокал (portokal), Greek πορτοκάλι (portokali), modern Persian پرتقال (porteghal), and Romanian portocală.  Related names show up in other languages, such as Arabic البرتقال (bourtouqal), Georgian ფორთოხალი (p'ort'oxali), and Turkish portakal.  Various Slavic languages use the variants pomaranč (Slovak), pomeranč (Czech), pomaranča (Slovene), and pomarańcza (Polish) -- all from Old French pomme d'orenge.  [Id.]

Orange is arancione in Italian, l'orange in French, and naranja in Spanish -- the last of which is strikingly similar to the Sanskrit.  The orange is known as "Chinese apple" in the Germanic languages: e.g.,  sinaasappel and appelsien (Dutch),  Apfelsine (German), appelsin (Danish).  Interestingly, the connection to China also appears in the Puerto Rican Spanish word for orange: china.  [Id.]

There is no word in English that rhymes with "orange."

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