Satsuma trees were one of several citrus varieties grown in Orange Beach, Alabama, in the early 20th century.

By John Mullen

January 24, 2020 – Orange Beach, AL – (OBA®) – The satsuma oranges have left their mark all over the Gulf Coast with at least four states having towns named after the famous citrus (Alabama, Florida, Louisiana & Texas).

“Citrus was brought in here by the Spanish in 1565 and they spread the plantings all along the Gulf Coast,” Orange Beach Historian Margaret Long said.

Satsumas left a mark on Orange Beach in name as well but in a bit more subtle way. In its early history the area was known for its groves of citrus but mainly the satsuma and was eventually named as Orange Beach. While there are still a few trees scattered here and there along with lemon and grapefruit trees in private yards, growing citrus for a cash crop died out many years ago.

But the name stuck.

“Long about 1870 is when the sour oranges and satsuma oranges were planted,” Long said. “That was like the mandarin type. The freeze of 1916 and 1917 wiped out all the groves that were over here around the Bay Circle area and on down Bear Point. Then we had another freeze in 1926. It’s kind of funny that we had a big hurricane in 1916 and then we also had a big hurricane in 1926. Then we had freezes and that’s what wiped them out.”

Satsuma are considered the hardiest of citrus varieties and are grown throughout the world in cool, subtropical climates like Orange Beach. According to the Florida Agricultural Extension Service, satsuma first appeared in the Gulf Coast regions in the 1870s and during the three-year period of 1908-11 more than a million trees from Japan were imported and planted in the U.S. It was first developed and grown by the Chinese and satsumas are considered a variety of mandarin orange.

While other areas in Alabama continued to try and grow the citrus, according to a 2016 paper by an Auburn University horticulturist more freezes in the 1930s and 1940s effectively halted widespread production.

In 2014, the city hired 14-year-old Austin Andrews to plant and maintain trees around town on city property. Andrews told the council at the time he wanted to have orange trees on city property to match the town’s namesake.

“One thing that kind of bothered me about Orange Beach, however, was there are no oranges here,” he said.

He took care of the trees until earlier this month when he said he wasn’t going to renew his contract with the city as other business interests were taking up more and more of his time. City Administrator Ken Grimes said landscaping crews from the Public Works Department would take over maintenance of the trees on city property.

For more information about the history of Orange Beach read, 'The Best Place to Be, The story of Orange Beach Alabama' by Margaret Childress Long & Michael D. Shipler. 

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