A navel orange is a special type of orange which has a little surprise inside once it is peeled: a partially formed undeveloped fruit like a conjoined twin, located at the blossom end of the fruit. From the outside, the blossom end is reminiscent of a human navel, leading to the fruit's common name. These oranges are cultivated primarily in Brazil, California, Arizona, and Florida, and they are among the most common and popular of orange varieties.
You may know the navel orange as a Washington, Riverside, or Bahia Navel Orange. If you're in a formal mood, you can call it by its scientific name, Citrus sinensis. This orange varietal is the result of a single mutation which occurred on a plantation in Brazil in 1820. The mutation led to the formation of a conjoined twin enclosed within the rind of a seedless orange, and it proved to be a hit, so people began cultivating it in other regions. The first American location of cultivation was Riverside, California, explaining the alternate name of “Riverside Orange.”
Because the navel orange is seedless, it can only be propagated through cuttings. Technically, every one of these oranges comes from the same orange tree; the Brazilian orange which generated a spontaneous mutation hundreds of years ago. Orange farmers take cuttings from their orange trees and graft them onto fresh stock periodically to ensure that their orchards stay healthy, and also for the purpose of expansion.
The flesh of a this type of orange is sweet and naturally very juicy. A rare varietal called the Cara Cara orange has a faint hint of strawberries, and flesh which is reddish pink, rather than more classically orange. Navel oranges can be eaten out of hand, juiced, used in fruit salads, or turned into jams and preserves, depending on personal taste.
Fresh navel oranges are available from the winter through the late spring, depending on the region. When selecting them at the market, look for oranges which feel heavy for their size, with no soft spots or obvious mold and pitting. If you live in USDA zones nine-11, you can also grow navel oranges yourself. Many nurseries sell orange trees for this purpose, along with a variety of other citrus fruits, if you want to create a small citrus garden. In addition to yielding edible fruit, many citrus trees also have very aromatic flowers, making them a pleasant addition to the garden.