Spanish missionaries introduced citrus to California in 1769. But in 1873 a missionary in Bahia, Brazil came across a sweet, nearly seedless orange and sent samples of the tree to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. An employee, William Saunders, shipped two small Bahia trees to Eliza Tibbets, a friend living in Riverside, California. The Bahia orange was renamed the Washington Navel for its ‘belly button’ base. Thousands of acres of navel orange tree were propagated from the bud wood of those two trees.
Today nearly all of the Washington navel orange trees grown in California are descended from these two original trees, one of which still grows at the intersection of Arlington and Magnolia Avenues in Riverside.