South Texas grapefruit comes in a variety of evocative names, but the characteristics they all have in common is their distinctive color and taste. Round and luscious and bright on the outside, plump and riveting and cardinal on the inside, grapefruits grown in the Rio Grande Valley are unabashedly sweet.
The Rio Grande Valley citrus industry—which mostly produces grapefruits and oranges—is more than a century old. The earliest record of citrus was seedling orange trees planted by Don Macedonio Vela at Laguna Seca Ranch in Edinburg in 1882. The first ruby red grapefruits were discovered by accident in 1929, growing serendipitously in a Thompson pink grapefruit tree imported to the RGV from Florida. In 1934, the first variety of ruby red grapefruit was patented, opening a new chapter in the horticultural history of Texas.
Today, most Texas citrus is produced in three RGV counties—Cameron, Hidalgo, and Willacy—and distributed regionally. At the industry’s peak, in the 1940s, grapefruits and oranges were grown on over 100,000 acres in the RGV. These days, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approximates the full extension of the Texas citrus realm in fewer than 23,000 acres. Urban development around McAllen, Mission, and other border towns is an unrelenting foe of the orchards.