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A History of the Mandarin Orange

Orange mandarin tree1
Orange mandarin tree

Mandarins oranges—in all their forms–are probably descended from wild oranges that grew in northeast India as long as 3,000 years ago. From India, mandarins made their way to China and from China to Europe, North Africa and Australia before they traveled on to other parts of the world.

The first of these small, loose-skinned oranges were brought to England from China in 1805. From England, the mandarin made its way to Italy in the next decade, and from Italy it came into wide cultivation and spread to other Mediterranean countries including several in North Africa. From China, the mandarin was introduced into Australia in the 1820s.

The mandarin gained its nickname when it was introduced into England. Mandarin denoted the form of Chinese spoken by public officials and other educated people in China. The robes worn by public officials or mandarins in the Chinese empire of that time were deep orange and so this Chinese import was dubbed a mandarin.

Mandarins were introduced into the United States in the 1840s by the Italian consul in New Orleans. From New Orleans, the mandarin spread to Florida and California.

Several varieties of mandarins that are deep orange in color took the name tangerine when they were imported in great quantities into the United States in the late nineteenth-century from Morocco in North Africa. Those mandarin shipments embarked from the Moroccan port city of Tangier.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. Harvesttotable.com has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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  1. My hometown in China probably produces the largest quantity of tangerine in the world. Quite remarkably, some over one thousand year old trees are still producing quality fruits to people’s table, and they became tourist attractions in recent years.

    We have called tangerine as “tian (sweet) Ju (citrus)”, probably for thousands of years. I don’t believe it is an coincidence.

  2. In early days, the spread of Mandarines from China,reached northern Morocco where they thrived. The city of Tangier became a Portuguese colony, and the fruit was a favourite in the Portuguese royal households.
    When Catherine of Braganza married into the British Royal family, she had the fruit shipped to England from the port of Tangier . The Tangier variety of MANDARINES became known as TANGERINES.

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