For the first time in decades, oranges grown at the San Gabriel Mission Gardens were recently picked, signaling a new era in citrus lore and a new chapter in this mission garden’s history.Indeed, many historians claim that the citrus industry got its start at the mission more than a century ago when groves of orange trees dotted the area. Those trees bearing Aqua Tibea, a sweet Valencia-styled orange, have long disappeared from the landscape, only to be recently brought back thanks to the generosity of a retired botanist Toots Bier.In 2006, Bier, who worked at the UC Riverside Citrus Clonal Protection Program, gave the San Gabriel Mission 10 trees which can trace their ancestry to an original tree that once grew on mission property. The Santa Barbara Mission also received 10 young trees which, as organizers hope, will multiply and be very, very fruitful.“Five of the trees are in our garden which is open to the public,” says Chuck Lyons, mission spokesman. Four others are in a secure area on the mission grounds; one tree sadly did not make the transition.Bier’s Aqua Tibea orange tree — which is growing in an undisclosed SoCal location — was DNA tested in 2004 when it was determined that this tree has historical roots; Bier wanted its descendants to once again be part of the groves of its original mission family.The trees — now trunks about two to three feet in diameter — are still establishing their roots and settling in. It may take a few years to get full orange production up to speed. In the meantime, seeds were harvested from this year’s small crop — about 24 oranges total — and will be planted on mission grounds later this spring.“The seeds symbolize hope and the future,” says Lyons who envisions the trees as ambassadors of not only the mission’s past, but also as a testament to the bounty of fruit that did — and still can be — found in Southern California.The trees are an official part of the mission’s tours and Lyons hopes that visitors can better appreciate the food that can be found in home gardens. “I hope this New Year kicks off with people eating more healthily and realizing how they can grow food in their own back yards as well,” he says.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0118/sgoranges/{/gallery}