Mission Is on to Mine Blood Orange-Like Variety in Florida

'Ruby' red Valencia orange cross sections

‘Ruby’ demonstrates the red flesh color popular in today’s citrus retail marketplace.
Photo courtesy of Biogold North America

Florida growers have long sought a blood orange that will develop uniform and reliable color. The deep red color is the result of anthocyanin expression, a healthful compound that also is responsible for the oranges’ unique flavor.

Unfortunately, anthocyanin expression requires more chilling hours than Florida’s subtropical environment typically affords.

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Because blood oranges present unique marketing opportunities for fresh and processed markets, extensive trials were conducted in Maitland, Lake Weir, Indiantown, and other Florida sites dating back to the 1940s (and perhaps earlier). Though researchers identified some interesting blood orange varieties, nothing colored consistently enough for commercial application. Blood oranges remain a very small niche market for Florida growers.

Lycopene is the Key
Lycopene, another healthful compound, provides the beautiful red color in grapefruit, tomatoes, papaya, watermelons, ‘Cara-Cara’ Navel oranges, and a host of other fruits and vegetables. Thankfully, lycopene is very much at home in subtropical environments. While lycopene-colored citrus fruit doesn’t have the same flavor profile as blood orange, it does exhibit beautiful flesh color and sometimes a blush to the peel. If only we could have a red Valencia orange that colors with lycopene!

The ‘Ruby’ Valencia is a branch mutation of an ‘Olinda’ Valencia orange discovered on the Crocodile Valley Estate near Nelspruit, South Africa. The ‘Ruby’ was chosen exclusively for its internal and external color made possible by high levels of lycopene. It is ideally suited for warm climates where it is able to produce higher lycopene content and prevent excessive cropping. Other than its red color, ‘Ruby’ characteristics are identical to those of the original ‘Olinda’ clone.

New Varieties Development & Management Corporation (NVDMC) acquired a license from Biogold North America in 2013 to import the exclusive ‘Ruby’ Valencia and enter it into trials at private grower sites. These trees are now three-and-a-half to four years of age and are performing beautifully. The trees are heavy bearers, yielding a small crop in year two. The photos in this article show that the ‘Ruby’ is demonstrating the red flesh color popular in today’s retail marketplace. The ‘Ruby’ Valencia matures at the same time as other traditional Valencia oranges, hangs well on the tree, and its red color improves over time. The fruit are juicy with a unique taste profile due to their lycopene content.

Fresh or Processed?
The lycopene is in the wall of the ‘Ruby’ Valencia juice vesicle. Because of this, the fruit is red when cut and consumed fresh, but the juice remains an attractive dark orange. Much of the darker red pigmentation remains behind in the discarded pulp. Tests in Florida showed a juice color score of 40.04. The fruit have an average of three seeds per fruit. These characteristics make the ‘Ruby’ Valencia suitable for fresh and processed markets. Packinghouses will benefit from a red orange from February to June, with a valuable market for eliminations. Processors and growers producing fruit for processing may have an interest in the ‘Ruby’ Valencia purely based on its juice characteristics.

Where are we in this process?
NVDMC recently held a ‘Ruby’ Valencia field day in Haines City, FL. Several thousand trees were available for planting in the spring 2019, providing more opportunity for trial and a boost in determining its long-term commercial potential. Trees in Florida are not old enough to generate conclusive information, but all have performed well to date.

Grower contracts are available that enable growers to proceed with commercial plantings if desired. Contact NVDMC for more information. Propagations are limited to one nursery. Other nurseries are encouraged to follow the progress of this variety if the event propagation rights are extended.

Bob Dylan famously said, “If I had rubies, riches, and crowns, I’d buy the whole world and change things around.” We can’t help you with riches or crowns, but we might be able to provide the rubies.