Texas Grapefruit History

Puzzling Beginnings

The origin of the Grapefruit, also known by its Latin name, Citrus paradisii, has been a puzzle to historians and pomologists for years. The only citrus strain not found to have originated in Southeast Asia, the grapefruit was obtained in the West Indies around the 1700s. Years later, research confirmed that grapefruit is a hybrid of a pummelo (citrus grandis), and the sweet orange (citrus sinensis).Originally known as “the forbidden fruit”, it wasn’t until the 1800′s that a Jamaican farmer called the fruit “grapefruit” for the grape-like cluster in which it grows on trees. In 1823, grapefruit made its way to the United States in the form of seeds brought by either Spanish or French settlers to Florida. Eventually, grapefruit made its way to South Texas, most likely by visiting Spanish missionaries.

John Shary (1872-1945)

The Crop of the Future

The first reported planting of a grove in Texas was 1893. Initial grapefruit plantings in Texas were the white varieties, followed by pink varieties. John H. Shary, a developer originally from Omaha, Nebraska, was so impressed by the small crop raised by early citrus experimenters that he felt citrus was the crop of the future for Texas. Shary, also known as the “Father of the Citrus Industry”, combined his interest in growing citrus with the latest irrigation techniques and a determination to sell valley citrus commercially. In 1914, he bought 16,000 acres of brush land and after clearing it, proceeded to grow his first crop of seeded white grapefruit.

An Accidental Discovery

The first commercial shipment of citrus – packed in onion crates – left the Lower Rio Grande Valley of South Texas in 1920. It was about the time of the great stock market crash in 1929 when an accidental discovery of red grapefruit growing on a pink grapefruit tree gave rise to the Texas Red Grapefruit Industry. In the late 1920′s and early 1930′s redder bud mutations were found in numerous groves. Each new finding was named for the grower who found it.

With several red grapefruit varieties and names being shipped commercially, keeping track of it soon became a marketing problem. All the red varieties of fruit started being marketed under the name “Ruby”. The “Ruby” Red Grapefruit was the first grapefruit to be granted a U.S. patent. Following freezes in 1949, 1951, and 1962, Texas eliminated its white and pink varieties, and set out to establish its reputation for growing the red grapefruit. During the 1970′s, several important mutations found on the “Ruby” trees produced fruit even redder than the 1929 Ruby Red grapefruit. Each finding again took the name of the grower who discovered it.

The Ruby Sweet and Rio Star

Dr. Richard Hensz of the Texas A&I Citrus Center (now known as the A&M Citrus Center) spent many years in the laboratory, working to produce the reddest grapefruit through mutations induced by ionizing radiation. In 1970 the Star Ruby variety was released followed by the Rio Red variety in 1984. With so many red varieties with varying degrees of redness, the industry was again faced with a marketing dilemma. To differentiate the Texas sweet, red grapefruit – a superior tasting grapefruit – from those other grapefruit, the industry now markets its fruit under two registered trademarked categories: Ruby-Sweet and Rio Star.

The South Texas sub-tropical climate, fertile soil, and sunny weather work together to provide excellent growing conditions. Texas citrus growers carefully maintain crop quality through successful irrigation techniques, growing conditions and extensive research. Texas grapefruit is tree-ripened and hand-picked to ensure the best quality possible. After picking, area shippers wash, inspect, grade and hand-pack the fruit. It’s then shipped to supermarkets across the United States. and Canada.

So peel that outer skin and reveal the sweet, juicy, red interior for yourself. Try a Rio Star or Ruby-Sweet grapefruit today!

Texas Grapefruit are marketed and promoted by TexaSweet®