By Brenda Eubanks Burnette
In the 1960s, 84-year-old Ethel G. Hakes recounted her firsthand experience of how the Temple orange rose to fame.
“Have you ever heard of a tree so treasured that its owner sat up all night to watch over it? Yet that’s exactly what one greenhorn grower did one night when a hard freeze headed for our part of Florida,” Hakes said.
“When warned of the impending freeze, the neophyte citrusman vowed to leave at least one especially valuable tree from injury,” she continued. “His first step was to hire a tent large enough to cover the entire tree. Next, to provide the needed warmth, a small oil heater was lighted in the tent. But then someone pointed out that the flame of such heaters often rose up and that, unless watched, the air at the top of the tent might become so overheated as to injure the tree. That’s when the tree owner … my husband … decided to put a cot inside the tent and maintain an all-night vigil to nurse the endangered tree.
“Fortunately, the highly prized tree was saved — ‘fortunately’ because this tree provided the parent budwood for the present-day Temple orange. And therein lies a story.”
It all began when her husband’s parents, John and Mary Hakes, vacationed in Florida one winter and ended up buying a 17-acre grove of oranges, grapefruit and tangerines. After three successful years, they needed help with the grove, so Ethel and Louis (her husband) moved from New York to Winter Park.
While going through the grove one day, Louis discovered that “one of the trees bore fruit distinctly different from the ordinary orange.” He took some samples to William Chase Temple, who helped found the Florida Citrus Exchange in 1909 and was considered the authority on citrus at the time.
“You have a valuable find in this orange,” Temple told Louis. “Send a small box of this fruit to the Buckeye Nursery in Tampa. The owner, D.C. Gillette, is an old friend of mine. Mail him some fruit at once, and I’ll write him a letter at the same time.”
Louis sent the fruit and “Mr. Gillette afterwards said that the first thing he noticed when opening the package was that the sender, in his ignorance, had failed to wash the sample fruit, so he took an orange to a sink in the adjoining room, shook some Dutch cleanser on the skin, then brushed it vigorously. Excitedly he noted the fruit’s deep rich color, the skin polished as though with wax.”
Gillette was in their grove within days, ultimately signing a contract in which the Buckeye Nursery became owner of all the budwood produced by the parent tree. The Hakes received a $2 royalty on all trees sold for three years after they were placed on the market.
Gillette’s son applied for a patent for the new orange, which meant a name was needed. So, they named it the Temple orange in honor of all the help that William Chase Temple had given them.
Public interest in seeing the tree with the new “wonder” orange was so great that it resulted in the need to encircle the tree with a 10-foot wire mesh fence so no one would try to take the budwood.
Unfortunately, Louis Hakes invested his profits in Florida real estate — “with the all-too-common sad result,” Ethel noted. “Nevertheless, much good did come out of all this. And today the fruit market of the world is enriched by truly a miracle orange — the handsome, easy-peeling, luscious tasting Temple.”
Brenda Eubanks Burnette is executive director of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame. Pieces of the Past is presented in partnership with Florida Southern College’s McKay Archives Center in Lakeland.