Grapefruit ‘Ruby Red’ – Citrus × paradisi

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The grapefruit (Citrus × paradisi) is a subtropical citrus tree known for its sour to semi-sweet fruit, an 18th-century hybrid first bred in Barbados. When found, it was named the “forbidden fruit”; and it has also been misidentified with the pomelo or shaddock (C. maxima), one of the parents of this hybrid, the other being sweet orange (C. × sinensis).

These evergreen trees usually grow to around 5–6 meters tall, although they can reach 13–15 meters. The leaves are dark green, long (up to 150 mm) and thin. It produces 5 cm white four-petaled flowers. The fruit is yellow-orange skinned and largely an oblate spheroid; it ranges in diameter from 10–15 cm. The flesh is segmented and acidic, varying in color depending on the cultivars, which include white, pink and red pulps of varying sweetness (generally, the redder varieties are sweeter).

1750 Engraving of The Forbidden Fruit Tree by Georg Dionysius Ehret

One ancestor of the grapefruit was the Jamaican sweet orange (Citrus sinensis), itself an ancient hybrid of Asian origin; the other was the Indonesian pomelo (C. maxima). One story of the fruit’s origins is that a certain “Captain Shaddock” brought pomelo seeds to Jamaica and bred the first fruit. However, it probably originated as a naturally occurring hybrid.

The Trunk, Leaves, and Flowers of this Tree, very much resemble
those of the Orange-tree.
The Fruit, when ripe, is something longer and larger than the largest
Orange; and exceeds, in the Delicacy of its Taste, the Fruit of every
Tree in this or any of our neighbouring Islands.
It hath somewhat of the Taste of a Shaddock; but far exceeds that, as
well as the best Orange, in its delicious Taste and Flavour.

The grapefruit was known as the shaddock or shattuck until the 19th century. Its current name alludes to clusters of the fruit on the tree, which often appear similar to grapes. Botanically, it was not distinguished from the pomelo until the 1830s, when it was given the name Citrus paradisi. Its true origins were not determined until the 1940s. This led to the official name being altered to Citrus × paradisi, the “×” identifying its hybrid origin.

An early pioneer in the American citrus industry was Kimball Chase Atwood, a wealthy entrepreneur who founded the Atwood Grapefruit Co. in the late 19th century. The Atwood Grove became the largest grapefruit grove in the world, with a yearly output of 80,000 boxes of fruit. It was there that pink grapefruit was first discovered in 1906.

The 1929 Ruby Red patent was associated with real commercial success, which came after the discovery of a red grapefruit growing on a pink variety. Only with the introduction of the Ruby Red did the grapefruit transform into a real agricultural success. The Red grapefruit, starting with the Ruby Red, has even become a symbolic fruit of Texas, where white “inferior” grapefruit were eliminated and only red grapefruit were grown for decades. Using radiation to trigger mutations, new varieties were developed to retain the red tones which typically faded to pink, the Rio Red variety is the current (2007) Texas grapefruit with registered trademarks Rio Star and Ruby-Sweet, also sometimes promoted as “Reddest” and “Texas Choice”.