Does “Ontogeny recapitulate phylogeny” Into Adult Citrus?

There’s a thesis that when you look at an embryo, it passes through the prior evolutionary steps before it arrives at “the present”. So we have a stage that looks like a fish embryo, and one that looks like a reptile, etc.

This is captured in the phrase
‘Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny’

This famous proposition from biology suggests that, if we have similar embryologic development, we are closely related.

The idea goes as follows. Embryogenesis is a developmental sequence at the earliest parts of life for a multicellular organism, an early way of structuring a mass of dividing cells into a body plan.

There is a sequence of operations in early development that specify important changes that later stages all build upon. Those later stages depend upon prior stages to have been established before they act. Natural selection might intervene here or there in that sequence, but it can make a far more reliable and survivable impact later in a developmental sequence, because it doesn’t interfere with all of the previous development. Earlier stages in development for related species of organisms must thus be more conserved, an idea that tends to bear out within members of close taxonomic groups.

Taxonomies, when they are well-grounded, group organisms in hierarchies based on shared characteristics. Add notions of ‘family trees’, and you get ‘phylogeny’. The basic urge of phylogeny is to understand common derivation. Convergent evolution of characteristics can complicate this analysis, but new genetic and developmental analyses have resolved a number of these confusions.

From this point of view, we know for sure that humans evolved from primordial fish and other earlier vertebrates. Human embryos first develop gill slits and a tail, both of which are usually resorbed as unnecessary when later human developmental programs kick in, all in utero. For a time, our embryos are also anatomically difficult to discriminate from a chicken embryo (and class Aves in general), or from a turtle embryo (order Chelonia), the latter a vertebrate derived very early on from other reptiles, apparently prior to the dinosaurs.

You are more like a turtle than you might realize.

This is a rather true proposition.

What I’m postulating, is that the trend continues to some extent during development into an adult species.

We’re all familiar with someone calling The Kids “Yard Apes”, and as a child I loved nothing quite so much as climbing in trees and eating fruit found there…

In my front yard is a “Tangelo” Tree. This is a citrus made by crossing a Grapefruit with a Tangerine. I harvested these fruit in the fully mature stage, with sweet eating out of hand and a “top knot” similar to some tangerines, for several years before I discovered an interesting thing about them.

Like many epiphany moments, this was fueled by Tequila. But not in the consumption, but in the desire for consumption… You see, I found that I had NO lemons nor limes. But I did have a citrus tree in the yard with immature fruit on it.

The citrus in question is a Dancy Tangelo, also known as the Minneola Tangelo.

Larry K. Jackson and Stephen H. Futch
The Minneola tangelo (Figure 1) is a Duncan grapefruit x Dancy tangerine hybrid released in 1931 by the United States Department of Agriculture Horticultural Research Station in Orlando. This tangelo (like other tangelo cultivars) is therefore 1/2 tangerine and 1/2 grapefruit. The fruit is quite handsome and a genuine pleasure to eat.

I’ll second the notion that it is a genuine pleasure to eat. Like a Giant Tangerine but more interesting at full maturity. But this posting isn’t about eating mature Tangelos. Nope, not at all… You see, I had Tequila and needed sharp sour citrus… A mature Tangelo is very sweet, not sharp or sour at all.

So I did what any Red Blooded Celtic German English American would do, I went out and looked at my tree and said “I do ne care if ye be ne ripe, I’m gonna pluck yew, and cut yew, and suck yer juices dry!” and picked the thing on the tree that looked most like a lemon. Smaller than full grown and not at all “ripe”. But 3 shots into it, wanting a 4th, “ripe” is not a barrier…

Imagine my surprise when not only was this an “adequate” substitute for a shot to a 3 times abused tongue, but was rather nice!

Well I’ll spare you the long and slow details. Just let’s agree that over the next few months (no, not Tequila Months… that was over and done in just a day … or maybe two… it’s a bit fuzzy… but actual months): I tried the little yellow ones when I needed a lemon, and the green ones when I needed a lime, and the bigger orange ones (but missing their “top knot”) when I wanted more of an orange effect. They ALL were FINE for the expected role.

Well, not quite all. VERY small green ones were a bit too dry to stand in for limes. Let ’em get to Lime Sized and it’s fine.

So now I look on my Citrus Tree, and realize I’m very much going to miss it as we re-candle to Florida. It has given me lime, lemon, orange, and Tangerine-On-Steroids fruit for neigh on 35 years now. Far more useful than any other thing I’ve planted and grown over the years. Dozens (hundreds?) of chickens with “citrus marinade” of various types, all from the same tree. More bottles of Tequila “rescued” by a “reach and grab” than I can count.

But I find myself wondering: Does this tree say something more? Does it explain why a 5 year old me loved climbing fruit trees and “hooting at the world” as a howler monkey might, but a 60+ year old me does not? Does it explain why a single tree can provide limes, lemons, oranges, and Tangelos? Do “we”, species writ large, recapitulate phylogeny in our development, even into our old age and into our graves?

Are some of us “fully mature” as 12 year olds (cough cough… at least mentally) while others are not emotionally mature into their 20s? (cough cough again… Speculating that analytical maturity can arrive decades before emotional maturity and “that’s a geek”…) simply because some “gene cascade development sequences” take more time than others? Is it perhaps down to methylation and sequencing even into old age?

My Citrus Tree has taught me more than one might expect. It has shown to me how evolutionary genetics is more important than total gene inventory. It has shown me that “what I EXPECT is not as important as WHAT IS”. It has shown me that the one thing I thought it could do was far far less than the total inventory of what it could offer. It has taught me that “methylation” and variable gene expression over time really really matters.

It has also taught me that just as “desperation is the mother of invention”… Tequila needs can drive discovery and creation.


This posting was brought to you by the early stages of “Tequila Appreciation”. No more than 6 shots were involved in the creation of this insight. Also, only ONE Orange State Tangelo was involved, cut into no more than 8 segments. (two yet to go..)

I have a Green Lime Stage Tangelo “on deck”, so do not be surprised if it is “All Down Hill from here”, and any comment made more than 4 hours (or 8 shots) from now is disavowed as the product of Chemical Coercion. After all, Chemistry is “White Supremacist Racism” so it can’t at all be my fault if it influences me a bit too much “going forward” ;-0

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in cooking, Emergency Preparation and Risks, Food, Science Bits. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Does “Ontogeny recapitulate phylogeny” Into Adult Citrus?

  1. It is impossible to hire a 20 year old who has 40 years of experience.

  2. another ian says:

    It is possible to hire a 40 year old that has 1 year of experience replicated 40 times though

  3. John S Howard Jr says:

    I was going to say the Minneola is just north of Clermont on US 27… although I haven’t been there in years, a small Bar-b-que shop named Jack’s is located on the south bound side of US 27. If I was anywhere in the area, I would always swing by.

  4. H.R. says:

    It is possible to hire someone fresh out of college with 15 years of experience. That’s how my resume read.

    I didn’t start college for my engineering degree until I was 28 years old. The College of Engineering I attended was not geared for someone married, working, and with a kid. I had also forgotten all my H.S. math and had to take 3 of the lowest level math classes to catch up so I could begin the Calculus series. It took me an extra two years to get through to my degree, but the math was only part of reason for the extra time it took.

    I graduated at age 34 and worked in manufacturing before and during my schooling

    Funny story: All freshmen (freshpeople? 😜) were required to attend a two-day Freshman Orientation with their parents. OK. At 28, they waived the ‘with parents’ requirement for me. Part of the orientation was to take placement tests for math and Freshman English Composition. I tested into Remedial Math and missed testing out of English Comp by |—| that much.

    The President of the University addressed the assembled parents and prospective students. At the time, Engineering was the hot field. He said, “All of you students who tested into remedial math can forget about Engineering. No one has ever made it through Engineering when they tested into remedial math. All of you parents of those students, who want your kid to be an Engineer, can forget that, too.”

    Guess what? There’s always a first time 😁 I don’t know for sure, but I may be to only student at that University ever to do that, and I attended one of the large(!), Ag & Mech Land Grant State Universities that graduated many thousands of Engineers over the years.

    BTW, I didn’t have to take remedial math. At orientation, they told us to buy a Schaum’s Outline Series basic math workbook to study, and in the Fall, there would be a retest given. Pass, and you could start at the lowest level of college math that they taught (for art students and journalism majors 😜)

    600 Freshmen showed up for the Fall retest, only 10 passed and tested out of remedial math, me being one of the ten.. When the Math Department told me that, I was shocked at how kids attitudes had changed over the 10 years I had been out of school. Already, kids had started losing the study ethic and motivation.

    I had figured on more like 1/2 or more testing out. I said something to the lady in the math department, who was shoehorning me into a class at the next level up on an emergency basis, and she said something to the effect that, yeah, the kids just don’t want to put in any effort anymore. She seemed a bit saddened by the dismal pass rate. No reason not to test out if you spent about 10 or 20 hours over a whole Summer going through that workbook.

  5. p.g.sharrow says:

    I suppose that I was that 20 year old with 40 years experience in many fields, but, I had a unique upbringing. I started working with my father and his brothers, accomplished builders and mechanics, before I was 5. By the time I was 18 I could build, repair, maintain and operate nearly anything made by the hand of man. By the time I was 20, in the Navy, I discovered that I was more advanced then many of the professionals were in their own fields. Today’s youth are restricted to child like lives well into their early 20s, small wonder that they have a child like attitude towards life in general. My childhood ended before I was 8, with adult treatment and responsibilities. That was normal treatment for children a hundred years ago. No worky No eaty. Everyone had to work to survive.

  6. cdquarles says:

    I agree. We are coddling our children and grandchildren too much. They don’t have to “grow up early” as many of us boomers and the remaining folk from the generation before us did. The. Hard. Way. There is nothing wrong with children working. Education isn’t warming a seat in a school. Education is what you get to the extent you want it. Older folk can help you decide; but the decision is yours. Like many others here, I did all kinds of jobs during my lifetime. Some were using your hands, some were using your mind. Never hurts to do both.

  7. E.M.Smith says:

    Hmmm… Interesting pattern developing.

    While I thought folks would be talking citrus, things have turned to personal histories, so here goes:

    I was working formally at about age 7. Started my first business then too. I tried selling “Greeting Cards” door to door and got sympathy sales, then also started making jewelry. Cheap costume stuff using bits from the crafts store. Both made some pocket change, but not a big win. At 7.5 I was helping build a restaurant with my Dad. Putting up paneling, assembling kitchen sinks, stocking shelves, putting plumbing in crawl spaces that were too tight for him. Then continued working in the restaurant to age 12 when we sold it.

    At 18 I was working in a Peach Cannery making money to spend on college. Between 12 and 18 did a variety of “odd jobs” from picking various things to rebuilding a tractor (as helper), mowing lawns around town; and worked on rental houses with Dad (painted a couple of houses, built walls, sheet rocked a room, put up ceilings, replaced “knob & tube” wiring with romex and better switches & sockets), installed a couple of roofs. Dad was selling Real Estate then, so I also did a fair amount of “Office Work” in his office and went on some number of sales calls / listings / property inspections and such.

    By the time I got to college, I had a decade of work experience and could do most construction trades. (framing, sheet rock, painting, electrical, plumbing, roofing… is there anything else? Oh Yeah, also did some flooring and insulation. I’ve also made cabinet doors to match existing including staining to match. No tile though. I think I need to do some tile. I’ve poured cement slabs and walkways… Built several fences). At about 15 or 16 I was busboy in a local Denny’s restaurant and then worked at a Texaco Station pumping gas for a while. I’d also done complete engine overhauls on a few engines and many brake jobs / tune ups / etc. I also was running a label machine summers and working hospital office winters, then transitioned to all hospital all the time about 2 years into it. I, too, took a long time to graduate. 7.5 years. Partly due to taking most of a year off to live in a box for NASA (also paid so counts as work and learned to do blood draws) and partly due to working 30 hours a week to support myself through the process.

    So by the time I graduated, at about age 26, I had 19 years of experience… I now often tell folks I’ve been working for “Over a 1/2 Century” when asked why I don’t want to do a particular job… But that had more punch when I was 58 than it does now ;-)

    I think maybe it’s time I stopped working… In theory, counting my part time at the Dentist Office, I’ve been working for about 60-something years…

    I wonder what percentage of the population has over 60 years work experience…

  8. John Hultquist says:

    I was a tree climber (or light towers at the local raceway). I wanted to see from the height. But I never had much interest in mountain peaks — none where I was anyway. At some point climbing and steep hiking trails became difficult. Look at:

    Minneola tangelo trees are for sale, potted about $100.
    Suggest you try starting your own. On the other hand many Florida folks have citrus trees and the fruit goes unharvested. You will be able to find supplies.

  9. H.R. says:

    @E.M. – Mineolas are in grocery stores everywhere. As John H points out, you can buy a tree if you want one.

    We’re three seasons, but we have a few potted citrus plants (Key Limes for pies!) that we put out on the patio and keep inside during the cold months. Inside we have a South-facing Wall-O-Windows. That seems to keep them happy inside.

    As to education or mental development: Hey, you started it (😁) by bringing up development of hominids of the male persuasion. So the topic turned to development via education, experience, and interests.

    When we get tired of the ‘age and experience’ discussion, I predict the thread will take an ugly turn towards the tequila-fueled depths to which one can sink. That one is on you, too. 😜

  10. Paul, Somerset says:

    There’s a theory that the notion of viewing children sentimentally, rather than as simply miniature adults, is a very recent trend, coinciding with the decline in childhood mortality. Quite simply it would once have been impossible to regard childhood as special, and every childhood death as an especially tragic event, or everyone would have been in a state of permanent despair.

    I think of my father’s family, in Galicia (now western Ukraine) between the Wars. He grew up on a farm with eleven brothers and sisters, three of whom died of disease as infants, and another three of disease before reaching adulthood. In circumstances of that sort, you simply had to view the production of children as an aspect of economic life, and not let the loss of one (or six) ruin you emotionally.

    The other thing I’d like to say, looking out at the bare branches of my apple trees on a damp, dark and dismal day in England, just how impossibly exotic it feels that right now there’s a guy lazily reaching out for fruit from a citrus tree in the California sun.

  11. E.M.Smith says:


    What I like about having a mature tree is I have some kind of fruit year round. They reach “maturity” about February / March, then the new batch starts coming on as the old one have a fair number “holding” on the tree just fine. Once about “lime sized”, I can treat them like limes, and when they color up a bit a few months later, lemons. Then on the run toward maturity, from about December on to January, they are like oranges. A bit sharp and make decent juice, then finishing up again as they grow their top knot and are great “out of hand” all sugary sweet, but don’t make juice worth a damn (too much pulp and not enough sharpness / acid to them). It’s like having 4 different trees in one.

    In the stores, all you get is the ripe phase…

    Growing one from scratch would take years to bear fruit, so not really an option for me at the present age… I might be able to find a big one in a pot, but that will be pricey…

    Oh Well. I can be happy just buying real limes, lemons, oranges and tangelos in the store I guess.

    @Paul, Somerset:

    Well, its been a bit cold and overcast mornings and evenings. Only the middle of the day is clear blue sky and barefoot weather. Maybe 3 or 4 hours max. ( I can hear that tiny violin tuning up now…) And I wan’t doing it lazily! I had to walk a good 20 feet, reach up to about 8 feet off the ground, and PULL it off the tree! That’s like almost work…

    Then, I only found one in the “Lemon” stage and had to split my Tequila between that one, and one in the “sweeter lime” stage. (When they are on the verge of turning yellow, the insides will get yellow first and start getting some sweetness in them. I like it better than a regular lemon or lime.)

    Frankly, it is that convenience of just “step out the door and grab one” that caused me to plant it in the first place. My childhood home had two orange trees each side of the front entrance sidewalk and I grew up with “citrus on demand”. For making marinades and such it can be a great feature.

    Some folks around here will put a miniature lemon in a pot, keep it about 4 feet tall. Makes all the lemons you can use for one family. In the ground they get so big one will serve the neighborhood. I’ve seen folks set boxes of them by the sidewalk with a “take what you want” sign ;-)

    One of the things I’ll miss about this area. You can grow darned near anything. Not edible bananas though. Have to go about 400 miles more south for that. San Diego grows them. But it is great for things from Citrus to colder crops like brassicas. Turnips can be a bit too hot unless you overwinter them in the coldest part of winter, and summers are just on the edge of not warm enough for some tomatoes (in my area… near the cold bay… inland is great tomato country). Even Florida isn’t quite this flexible. Product of warm air and cold ocean.

    Technically it is a “Mediterranean Climate”. Only found in a few places on the globe. Much of the rest is either too hot, too dry, too wet, too cold, etc. etc. We never get a hard freeze (inland California and especially up the mountains does) nor a scorching hot (after 2 hot days, inland air rises and pulls in cool air off the cold ocean). Never too humid either, nor can it really get too dry with the water nearby.

    Oh Well. Ruined by corrupt politicians and “woke” culture extremists.

  12. Annie says:

    @E.M.S. 6:11 pm:
    I wonder what percentage of the population has over 60 years of work experience…

    HM The Queen maybe?!

  13. John Hultquist says:

    HM The Queen maybe?!
    An early duty was on October 13, 1940

    So if you call what she does now work, she is up to about 80 years.

  14. masgramondou says:

    In Japan the use of green (and sometimes yellow) yuzu and mikan (tangerines) in places where you might want a lime or lemon is quite common. The only real problem with yuzu used this way is the excessive number of pips which end up in the G&T or whatever

    And @John Hultquist. I would certainly consider the Queen to be working since at least 1952 when she inherited the throne. Not sure how much she did before that (though she certainly did some), but she’s pulled down a solid amount of work since then opening buildings, giving speeches hosting unsavory dictators for dinners and so on

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