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From the Far East to the Florida frontier

Pineapple plate

Boym, Michel, & Michael Rictius. Flora sinensis: fructus floresque humillime porrigens, serenissimo et potentissimo principi, ac domino, domino Leopoldo Ignatio, Hungariae regi florentissimo, &c. : fructus saeculo promittenti Augustissimos. Viennae Austriae: Typic Matthaei Rictij, 1656.

By the mid-1600s, China was still largely a mystery to Europeans.  The scramble for Asian spices had been underway for 150 years, but few Europeans had provided first-hand information of China’s flora and fauna.  Jesuit missionary Michel Boym traveled to China on behalf of the Austrian crown, spending ten years there.  Among his notable achievements were the conversion of the Ming Emperor to Catholicism (just before the invading Manchus took over) and his collection of illustrations and notes on plants and animals in China.  Some of the fruits depicted in the sketches are still obscure to westerners: custard apple, lychee, jackfruit, etc.  Pineapple, however, would become popular by the end of the 19th Century, cultivated most notably in Hawaii and Florida.  By that time, citrus was a popular Florida crop.  Its development as an agricultural product may have evolved separately from pineapple, but the origins of oranges were the same: the Far East.  China probably first cultivated oranges with specimens from Southeast Asia.  Italian traders spread the seed of the sour Persian orange for centuries.  Conquistador Ponce de Leon planted Persian orange seeds in Florida soil while passing through in 1513.  The Spanish obtained the sweet orange from China later in the Sixteenth Century, importing it to Latin America.  Sweet oranges were introduced to Florida in about 1872.  To speed production, the sweet variety was often grafted onto the branches of sour orange trees.