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Title: Orange tree
Original Title: Oranger
Volume and Page: Vol. 11 (1765), pp. 554–557
Author: Pierre Daubenton (le Subdélégué) (biography)
Translator: Ann-Marie Thornton [Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey]
Subject terms:
Original Version (ARTFL): Link
Source: Russell, Terence M. and Anne Marie Thornton. Gardens and landscapes in the Encyclopédie of Diderot and D'Alembert : the letterpress articles and selected engravings. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999. Used with permission.

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Citation (MLA): Daubenton, Pierre (le Subdélégué). "Orange tree." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Ann-Marie Thornton. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2013. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Oranger," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 11. Paris, 1765.
Citation (Chicago): Daubenton, Pierre (le Subdélégué). "Orange tree." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Ann-Marie Thornton. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2013. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Oranger," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 11:554–557 (Paris, 1765).

Orange tree, [1] an evergreen tree which is native to the warmest climates of Asia, Europe, and even South America. [2] In addition to the usefulness of its fruit, this tree is so pleasant and beautiful that it is cultivated earlier in the North, where even though it is too tender to remain in the open ground during the winter, an optimum temperature has been provided for it by means of care and shelter. This is what has given rise to the construction of orangeries, which presently form an integral part of the country retreats of the affluent. [3]

In hot countries, the orange becomes a large tree, often growing to a height of sixty feet with a girth of six or eight feet. However, in the greater part of the kingdom, it grows only as a shrub, because it must remain boxed. Consequently, we will consider the orange only in relation to its necessary constraint. If the formative pruning has been carried out successfully, the tree will form a tall, straight stem and a regular crown covered with twigs. The leaves are large, long, and pointed with a firm, smooth, even texture, and are of a soft, yellowish, glossy green. Each leaf has a small, heart-shaped leaf in front which serves to distinguish oranges from lemons and limes, the leaves of which are simple. Oranges bear a large number of white flowers during the whole summer, and their delicious fragrance perfumes the air over a distance. The flowers are replaced by round, fleshy, succulent fruit of which the colour, taste, and smell are delightful. Indeed, one cannot help admiring a tree which retains the most brilliant foliage in all seasons, combines the attractions of being at once laden with flowers and fruit, the latter just borne while the former are in blossom, and of which all the organs, such as the young wood, leaves, flowers, and fruit, have an extremely sweet and aromatic fragrance. Orange trees have the additional merit of being long-lived, and although they are often enclosed and always confined, some have been known to subsist in boxes for two centuries or more.

Oranges are easier to propagate, grow, and cultivate than is commonly believed. Gardeners make a mystery out of their cultivation, imply that great skill is necessary, and claim that these trees require a multitude of preparations, cares, and precautions. However, the mysterious art of cultivating oranges may be reduced to the following: 1. prepare a good soil mix for them, which is very simple; 2. provide them with boxes proportioned to their breadth; 3. give them a regular crown; 4. place them in sites of a favourable exposure during the summer months; 5. overwinter them in an orangery, which should be sufficiently ventilated without allowing frost to penetrate; 6. water them carefully; 7. re-box them where necessary; 8. revive them following any disease or accident; 9. lastly, protect them from pests. Before considering these points in detail, we must describe both methods of procuring oranges: one may either sow pips which are subsequently grafted or buy grafted trees which Genoese merchants come to sell each year in most cities of the kingdom.

With regard to raising oranges from seed and grafting them, I will present the practice recommended by Mr Miller, an English author who is well-versed in the art of cultivating plants. Since his works have not yet been translated into French, it will be of great benefit to make his method of cultivating oranges better known. We may even diverge from it in several respects without risk owing to the difference in climate, which is somewhat more favourable in our kingdom than in England. [4]

In order to procure rootstocks which are suitable for grafting different sorts of oranges, Miller states that one must sow pips extracted from citrons which have turned rotten in spring. The seedlings which spring up from these pips make better rootstocks than orange or lime seedlings, because citrons grow more promptly and are suitable for grafting every sort of orange tree. Sow the pips in spring in pots filled with good earth, which are usually plunged in a bed of manure or perferably spent tan. Water them frequently and cover them with bell- glasses, which should be somewhat raised in order to allow air to circulate and protected from the heat of the day with matting. The seeds will come up at the end of three weeks, and if the sowing has been well managed the young seedlings may be transplanted one month later into small pots of about five inches in diameter.

The soil used for this planting and for oranges in general should be composed of two parts meadowland, which should be as heavy but as soft as possible and yet rich and silty, and dug up to a depth of ten inches including the turf. A third part composed of well-rotted neat’s dung should be added, and the whole mixed together with the turf in order to make it rot. Leave this mixture for one year before using it, but turn it over once a month in order to finish mixing it, make the roots rot, break up the clods of earth, and loosen the soil. Riddle it before use, particularly in order to remove the roots: however, the soil must not be too fine, since this is detrimental to most plants and especially to oranges.

When removing the young seedlings from the pots in which they were sown, conserve as much of the root ball as possible. Transplant the seedlings into small pots and place the pots under a frame in a replenished bed, watering them frequently and lightly. Shade them from the midday sun, and with the necessary care the seedlings will have grown to two feet by July of the first year. Then, gradually raise the frame from the bed so that the seedlings are left to grow strong. In fine weather, remove the seedlings and place them in a site of a favourable exposure, where they will be protected from hot weather. Towards the end of September, store them in the most ventilated part of the orangery and water them frequently but moderately.

The following spring, wash them in order to remove any dust or mould and put them back into a warm bed, which will bring them on considerably. However, from June, they should no longer be treated so delicately, so that by August they may be ready to be shield budded. Then, from the fertile and vigorous oranges which one wishes to multiply, select some round, strong twigs, the buds of which are easier to lift than those of feeble, flat, angular branches, and shield bud in the usual manner. [5] Place the shield-budded rootstocks in the orangery in order to protect them from damp, turn the shield-buds away from the sun, and water them lightly and frequently. One month later, see which shield-buds have taken and then cut the bud-tying material.

Remove the trees from the orangery only in the following spring, and, once the rootstocks have been cut to three inches above the shield- buds, plunge the trees and their pots into a bed of warm bark and ventilate and water them, depending on the weather. Care must be taken to protect them from the sun’s heat. By training them in this manner, the grafts, which shoot vigorously, will have grown to three feet by July. During this time, accustom the trees to fatigue, so that they are better able to overwinter in the orangery. Stop the stems, which are now at the correct height, in order to encourage the growth of the lateral branches. Ensure that the trees are kept warm during the winter following this first period of growth, since the bed of spent tan makes them tender by bringing them on. This forcing can scarcely be dispensed with: it enables the trees to reach a certain height during the rising of a single sap, whereas when the trees take several years to form their stems, they rarely grow upright. The trees are then trained in the same manner as full-grown oranges, which we will detail once we have described the method of cultivating grafted trees bought from Genoese merchants.

The quickest method of procuring fine orange trees is to buy them from these merchants, since oranges which are raised from seed in our climate are nowhere near as large after eighteen or twenty years. Moreover, while the crowns of Italian oranges are small, they can by careful training be made in the space of three years to look beautiful and to fruit. Select trees which have good shield-buds, since those which have only one shield-bud rarely form a regular crown, in addition to which the stems should be straight, the branches fresh, and the bark full and healthy. Half-soak the stems in water for two or three days, until they begin to swell. Then, clear the roots of mould, cut off those which are desiccated, broken, or dead, and refresh those which are healthy. Remove the root hairs, since they are always dried out by the length of the journey, brush the stems using a horsehair brush followed by a softer piece of cloth, and, lastly, cut the branches to about six inches from the stem. For planting, use good, new soil mixed with well-rotted neat’s dung. Do not plant the trees in large pots: it suffices, for this first transplantation, for the pots to be large enough to contain the roots. Put some potsherds or flat stones at the bottom of the pots for drainage, then plunge the pots into a warm bed of spent tan and water the trees liberally in order to consolidate the soil around the roots. Repeat the waterings as frequently as the weather dictates, and be careful to shade the frames on the bed in order to protect the trees from excessive sunshine.

If the trees grow as well as possible according to the measures we have just outlined, they will have produced vigorous shoots by the beginning of June, at which point they should be stopped in order to encourage the crowns to form. They must also be well ventilated and treated less delicately from mid-July, though they should be placed in a site of a warm exposure, but in the shelter of the sun and the wind. The trees should be left there until the end of September and then placed in the orangery near the windows, which should be kept open as often as the season permits. However, at the end of October they should be placed in the warmest part of the orangery, watered frequently and lightly in winter, and above all protected from frost.

When the hardiest shrubs, such as pomegranates, etc., are brought out from the orangery the following spring, it is advisable to wash and clean the leaves and stems of the oranges, renew the soil at the top of the pots, cover this fresh soil with a layer of well-rotted neat’s dung, and ensure that the cow dung does not touch the stems. As there will be more room in the orangery, the oranges may be spaced at greater intervals in order to facilitate the circulation of air, which should be regulated according to the weather. The oranges should be removed from the orangery only towards the middle of May, when one may be certain that summertime has begun. When the trees are removed prematurely, the cold mornings often do them great harm. During the summer, they must be placed in a site which is sheltered from both the full force of the wind and the heat of the sun, both of which are detrimental to orange trees. As the trees develop, one should stop those vigorous shoots which grow irregularly, in order to enable the crowns to form. However, our author does not recommend pinching the tips of the branches, because this encourages a large number of small shoots to grow which are too feeble to bear fruit. [6] Formative pruning should entail sparing the vigorous branches and suppressing the thin shoots which obstruct one another, become intertwined, or are too short and slender.

Oranges require frequent and abundant watering during summer drought, especially when they are full grown. The water must be exposed to the sun, soft, and, in spite of some people’s recommendation, without any dregs of manure, since this is pernicious to these trees and to a great number of others. It is the same with strong liquor, which seems to invigorate for the present moment but never fails to weaken the body.

Oranges need to be repotted each year, to which end good soil should be prepared one year in advance so that it is well mixed and rotted. The end of April is the most suitable time for repotting: the trees can then grow new roots before they are removed from the orangery; they should even be left there for a fortnight longer than usual so that they have time to become well anchored.

When the oranges have been unpotted, cut the roots which protrude from the root balls and detach those which are mouldy, before using a pointed iron implement to draw out as much old soil as possible from between the roots without breaking or damaging them. Then, place the tree bases in water for fifteen minutes in order to moisten the lower part of the root balls. Scrub the stems with a horsehair brush and clean the crowns with a wet cloth. Take the pots, of which the bottoms should be lined with stones or potsherds, and fill them with about two inches of new soil, placing the trees on top, right in the middle of the pots, before filling them up with good soil. Firm the soil well with one’s hand and sprinkle the trees with water. This watering must always take place in the orangery, when the trees have been washed and cleaned for the first time: it encourages them to grow new roots and refreshes the crowns considerably. When the newly-potted oranges are brought out from the orangery, it is advisable to shade them under a tree and prop their stems with good crutches in order to prevent the wind from disturbing them. The full force of the wind can sometimes blow newly-planted oranges out of their pots, or at least disturb the new roots.

The best means of reviving old, badly-managed oranges of which the crowns are ragged and decayed with age is to prune them back in March, lift them from their boxes, shake off any soil from the roots, cut off any roots which are mouldy, and remove the root hairs, before cleaning the remaining roots along with the stems and branches. The revived oranges are then re-boxed and plunged into a bed of spent tan in the same manner as oranges brought from a distance, and managed in the same way. By this means, they will form new crowns and regain their beauty in less than two years. However, if the oranges which need to be revived are large and have been boxed for several years, it is better to plant them in good soil in gardener’s baskets, which are smaller than boxes, and place them in the bed of spent tan at the beginning of July. When they have grown well, the trees along with their baskets may be boxed, and the empty spaces filled with suitable soil. It will then be unnecessary to put the boxes in the spent tan which would rot them, and the trees will progress as well as if they had been boxed originally. However, they must remain in the orangery for two or three weeks before being placed in the open ground.

The pruning of oranges presents no great difficulty: it consists of conserving the vigorous branches, cutting off those which are too short and slender or which cross or obstruct one another, and suppressing the small grafted wood which is too thin to produce flowers and good fruit. Since the orange tree may grow into various shapes, and as the foliage forms its principal or at least its most enduring attraction, one should try to give the tree a regular crown by assiduous and careful pruning without using the gardening shears, which make the crown look bare by leaving a large part of the leaves half cut: precision of form does not compensate for this drawback, in addition to which leaves which have been cut by shears wither and look unpleasant. It is much better to leave the branches slightly pricking, for the more they resemble their natural condition, the more visually pleasing they will be.

Should hail, wind, disease, or any other accident damage and disfigure an orange, one should cut the tree back by lopping its branches down to the more vigorous parts, which promise to form new shoots of which the form may be perfected. As soon as one notices that an orange tree is diseased, which may be discerned by the yellow colour of its leaves, one should seek to cure it promptly by placing it in the shade if it has suffered from the heat, or inspecting its roots where disease usually originates, in which case one should remove the infected parts and renew the soil. However, bugs are the greatest scourge of this tree: they attack its leaves, especially in winter. As soon as one notices any, one should rid the tree of them by removing and crushing them with one’s fingers or scrubbing the branches with a brush and the leaves with linen, after having soaked the brush and linen in vinegar or in water impregnated with quinine or salt.

Oranges are useful as well as beautiful. Their flowers are used to make orange-flower water, liqueur, jam, etc. The excellent quality of their fruit is universally recognized and most oranges are good to eat. Bitter oranges are also used. See Orange.

Although orange-tree wood is of a good quality, it is little used, even in hot countries where the trees grow very tall, because the heartwood is always rotten.

There are an infinite number of oranges, of which the following are the most common.

1. Bitter orange, or bigarade. [7]

2. Bitter orange with variegated leaves.

3. Sweet or Portuguese orange. [8]

4. Orange tree with curled leaves, or ‘Bouquetier’. So-called because it is many flowered.

5. ‘Bouquetier’ with diversely-coloured flowers.

6. Horned orange.

7. ‘Hermaphrodite’ orange, the fruit of which takes from the orange and lemon. [9]

8. Turkish orange, with narrow leaves resembling those of the willow. [10]

9. Turkish orange with variegated leaves.

10. Pummelo: this fruit is as large as a human head. [11]

11. Female orange: so-called because it is fertile.

12. Distorted orange: so-called because of its irregular shape.

13. Large orange with a rough rind.

14. Starred orange: so-called because the top of the fruit is marked with five furrows in the form of a star.

15. Orange with a sweet rind. [12]

16. Double-flowered orange.

17. China orange. [13]

18. Dwarf China orange. [14]

19. Dwarf orange with bitter fruit: this tree differs from the China orange. [15]

20. The same, with striped fruit and leaves. [16]

These miniature oranges are infinitely pleasing: their leaves are small and cover the branches; they produce a great number of flowers all over the tree which form deliciously-fragrant clusters at the tips of the branches. But these oranges need careful management if they are to retain their vigour: they must be overwintered earlier, brought out later, and kept at a higher temperature than other oranges. The same is true of grapefruits, China oranges, and variegated oranges.


1. Citrus sinensis, the orange or sweet orange, which is the most important citrus crop at 66% of the whole. See D. J. Mabberley, The Plant-book: a Portable Dictionary of the Vascular Plants (Cambridge, 1997), 161.

2. Citrus sinensis probably originated from introgressed hybrids between Citrus maxima and Citrus reticulata, which may have been selected in China (ibid.).

3. See article Serre.

4. Daubenton’s article is a free adaptation of article ‘ Aurantium ’. Miller, 1752.

5. See article Graft; grafting.

6. ‘Do not pinch off the tops of all the shoots (as is the practice of some), which will fill the tree with small shoots, too weak to support fruit’ (article ‘ Aurantium ’, Miller, 1752).

7. Citrus aurantium (see article Bigarade).

8. Citrus sinensis, the sweet or China orange, which may have originated from South China or Vietnam. It was introduced to the Mediterranean by European sailors in c. 1500 and came to France and Britain via Portugal: in Turkish, orange is ‘portakal’ (Huxley et al., 1992, i.635).

9. This may be a cross between the orange and lemon (Harris, pers. comm.).

10. This is probably a selection of Citrus aurantium (ibid.).

11. Citrus maxima, also known as the shaddock (ibid.).

12. This may be a species of the genus Fortunella, or kumquat (ibid.).

13. This name is now given to Citrus sinensis.

14. This is probably a cultivar of Citrus sinensis (Harris, pers. comm.).

15. A species of the genus Fortunella, or kumquat (ibid.).

16. A cultivar of the preceding species (ibid.).