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Sunday Favorites: Pink Perfection

The Mutation and Freeze That Birthed the Pink Grapefruit


Hands down, my top pick among grapefruits is the pink variety. Its zesty, tantalizing, tart taste is a refreshing sensation, especially on a hot day. Surprisingly, this delectable fruit didn't even exist until the late 1800s.

At one time, the largest grapefruit grove in the world was in Manavisita, an area just east of Palmetto on the north side of the Manatee River. In 1882, Kimball C. Atwood acquired 2,685 acres on the river's edge and enlisted 500 laborers to clear the terrain and cultivate citrus trees. Upon completion, a sprawling expanse of 96 square miles of grapefruit hugged the riverbanks. The grove benefited from five artesian wells for irrigation. Renowned nationally and across Europe, the Atwood Grove even boasted King George Albert V as a patron. As a cherished tradition, the Atwood family annually handpicked a complimentary box of grapefruit for the king's enjoyment.

One day, while laborers plucked ripe fruit from the branches, they noticed something extraordinary: pink spots adorning the fruit harvested from a solitary branch among the vast expanse of grapefruit plants. Upon slicing open one of the fruits, a natural mutation was revealed rendering the inside a vibrant shade of pink. This story was shared by Andy Reasoner in his historical talk at Reasoner Heritage Day at Palma Sola Botanical Park on March 22.

Excited by the discovery, Kimball wasted no time in reaching out to Pliny and Egbert Reasoner, who had relocated to the area from Chicago in the early 1880s. Pliny was a respected botanist and horticulturalist. Pliny was renowned for his global explorations searching for rare specimens to feature in the nursery he ran with his brother Reasoner Royal Palm Nursey. Upon hearing Kimball's news, the brothers sprang into action, delicately removing the mutated branch from the tree and transporting it back to their nursery to commence propagation, as recounted by Andy.

The propagation of the pink grapefruit proved highly successful, yielding thousands of thriving trees for sale at Pliny and Egbert's nursery. However, despite their efforts, they encountered a surprising challenge, there was limited interest in the vibrant fruit. In a community where notions of masculinity held sway, the prospect of consuming something so pink was met with indifference, if not outright aversion.

During on particularly harsh winter, a devastating freeze wreaked havoc on Florida's citrus industry, causing widespread destruction. However, Royal Palm Nursery had taken precautionary measures to safeguard its inventory, managing to preserve most of its citrus products. As a result, their citrus offerings became highly sought after, with most plants quickly selling out—except for one notable exception. Even in desperate times, the pink grapefruit remained untouched.

Texas had also suffered the consequences of the severe weather conditions. On a particular day, a group of farmers from Texas arrived at the Royal Palm Nursery, desperately seeking citrus plants to replace those lost. Upon learning that the nursery had sold out of nearly everything except for a surplus of pink grapefruit, the farmers wasted no time. They promptly purchased the entire stock, filling train carts to the brim, according to Andy Reasoner.

Remarkably, the pink grapefruit thrived in the Texan soil, establishing itself as a staple of the state's agriculture. Today, Texas boasts one of the largest pink grapefruit industries globally, a testament to the resilience and adaptability of this exceptional fruit.

This tale as well as many other aspects of the establishment of the Royal Palm Nursery, is documented in journals and correspondence letters among the Reasoner family and are now in the Special and Area Studies Collections at the University of Florida. It can also be found in the book, “The Plant Pioneers. The Story of the Reasoner Family, Pioneer Florida Horticulturists and Their Nursery” by Norman J. Pinardi.

Merab Favorite is a fifth generation Florida native, a professional storyteller and published author. She can be reached at favorite.merab@gmail.com.

Reasoner Nursery; Atwood Grove; History of Pink Grapefruit; History of Manatee County


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