LAKE WALES, Fla. (AP) — A disease called greening is threatening to wipe out a vital part of Florida's economy and identity: the state's $9 billion citrus industry. Here are 10 things to know about Florida citrus, its history and the disease now imperiling the industry:
IN THE BEGINNING
1. Florida historians say citrus trees were brought to the peninsula in the mid-1500s by Spanish explorers and first planted along the state's northeast coast, near St. Augustine. Oranges and grapefruits have been farmed commercially since the 1800s. By the mid-20th century, an aggressive marketing campaign led Americans to associate the state's abundant sunshine with orange juice.
2. Walt Disney's parents once owned a citrus grove, as did novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe and fashion designer Lily Pulitzer's husband. Oranges even inspired Pulitzer's entree into fashion; after opening a juice stand in 1959, Pulitzer asked her seamstress to make dresses in colorful prints to camouflage the fruit stains that were getting on her clothes.
3. Famous people have long promoted Florida OJ. Bing Crosby crooned about Minute Maid's "freshly frozen bright sunshine" in 1948. Former beauty pageant winner Anita Bryant was hired as a brand ambassador in the 1960s but then created controversy when she came out in favor of repealing a gay rights ordinance in Miami-Dade County. A juice boycott ensued. This year, the Florida Department of Citrus signed FOX Sports reporter Erin Andrews as a spokeswoman.
4. In 1965, orange groves covered 695,824 acres. Because of development, hurricane damage and now greening, that number has diminished to 464,918 acres. There are, however, more orange trees planted in the state than a half-century ago: 61,638 trees compared to 53,893. Growers are planting more trees per acre to get greater yields because so much fruit is dropping due to greening. Oranges comprise the bulk of the state's citrus crop.
5. First reported in China in 1943, greening disease mostly ended commercial citrus in Asia, except for Japan. In Chinese the disease is called "huanglongbing," or "yellow dragon disease," because the first signs are yellowed leaves that resemble a dragon's tail.
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