Friday, July 24, 2009

Scurvy? Not likely!

It has been quite a while since the last official re-supply here on Raoul so our supplies of mainland fruit and vegetables are slowly dwindling away to nothing. Luckily, though, there is a ready source of fruit in the shape of citrus trees, some of them planted here as long ago as 1840.

One of the early settlers, Tom Bell, brought his family to Raoul to settle at a time when the only contact with the outside world was through passing whalers and the odd island trader. The Bells were plagued by misfortune in the early part of their stay here, enduring abandonment, isolation, eruptions, earthquakes, voracious rats, ferocious storms and the theft of all their valuables by passing vagabonds.

In the 1880s the captain of a visiting island trader the Richmond left a case of Tahiti oranges with the Bells and each of the pips was saved and planted. More than a hundred of the resulting trees still survive in an orchard not far from the hostel where we live. The trees are huge now and their fruit is delicious although we find ourselves competing with the birds in the race to get to one that falls.

In 1996, botanist Carol West started collecting budwood and cuttings from the trees here, recognising that the cultivars are a very old and potentially valuable source of genetic material. They may even be a “missing link” through to some very early cultivars that emerged from Asia.

Oranges alternate with the gigantic grapefruit in our front garden as the kick-start drink of the day, freshly squeezed at breakfast. What better beginning could you have?

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