The wild oranges of INDIA

Limes,lemons and oranges are taste giving and nutrition -enriching elements of our diet. It is estimated that there are about one billion trees of the citrus genus on earth. Over 60 different citrus fruits are popular in the world today, all of which are hybrids of the three fruits mentioned below, or hybrids of hybrids,and so on: (1) The large, sweet & spongy skinned Pomelo; (2) the tasteless Citron, which is used in traditional medicine, and (3) the loose skinned and sweet Mandarin Orange that we associate with Nagpur.

Each citrus variety has some distinguishing feature as a USP: for example , the rare Tahiti orange , a descendant of the Indian Rangpur lime ,looks like an orange -colored lemon and tastes like a pineapple .

The first oranges

Where did the citrus originate ? Botanist Chozaburo Tanaka was an early proponent of the Indian origin of the citrus . An exhaustive study of the genomes of many citrus varieties concluded that the last common ancestor of all the varieties we see today grew about eight million years ago in what is now Northeast India and adjacent regions of Myanmar and southwest China . This region is , famously , one of the world’s richest biodiversity hotspots . A biodiversity hotspot is defined as a region that contains at least 1500 species of native plants and has lost at least 70% of its vegetation. The north east corner has 25% of India’s forests and a large chunk of its biodiversity. Here you will find tribes such as the khadi and garo , and nearly 200 spoken languages. This area is also a rich repository of citrus genomes , with 68 varieties of wild and developed citrus found here today.

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The fruit of ghosts

Of special interest is the wild Indian citrus, a progenitor species of citrus that is native to Northeast India . Some experts believe that it may even be the original member of this group. Our own wild orange has been studied in the Garo hills of Maghalaya where only scant patches remain .

Recent searches , along with detailed molecular comparisons , have led to its rediscovery in the Tamenglong district of Manipur, a thickly forested place with a population density of just 32 per square kilometre. The Manipur team could find three isolated clusters of Citrus indica ,the largest of which had 20 trees . High rainfall and high humidity prevails here , with annual temperature extremes of 4 and 31 degrees Celsius .The manipuri tribes call it Garuan-thai (came fruit) , but they appear to have neither cultivated nor culturally assimilated this fruit, as has been done by the Khasi and Garo people . The Garo name for the fruit is Memang Narang (ghost fruit) , because of its use in their death rituals . Traditional medical uses involve digestive problems and common colds. Villages attentively tend their Memang trees.