Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Monday, May 7, 2007

The Osage orange tree

Bow-wood tree, bodark, hedge apple, Maclura pomifera


Osage orange fruitJohn Dunn Hunter, a leader of the Cherokees was a white man, who was captured by Indians as a toddler. He's an interesting person, but this is a tree blog, not a history blog, so you'll have to read more about him elsewhere if you are interested.

Here's John Dunn Hunter's description of the Osage orange tree, a native tree of Texas and Oklahoma, as he wrote it in the early 1800's:

...I shall close this subject with a few observations on the Osage orange, or bow-wood tree, which I have previously mentioned, but of which very little appears to be known. It is found in abundance on the St. Francis, White, and some parts of the Arkansas, Vermillion, Canadian, and Osage rivers; and there are a few scattering ones on the Kansas; I do not recollect to have seen them farther north, though they may exist on the Missouri, and in many other places, without my knowledge. The tree delights in a fertile, and rather dry soil, and attains to the height of from fifteen to thirty feet, with a trunk proportionally large.

In May or June, the male, or tree not bearing fruit, is covered with numerous pale yellow flowers, which expand in nearly the same manner as those of the dogwood (Cornus Florida), though they are not so large. The fruit ripens in the fore part of the fall; is also of a pale yellow colour, spheroidal shaped, and about the size of a large hen's egg. It is slightly pulpy, and acid, and by many of the Indians esteemed as an agreeable esculent. The rind, when wounded, especially before ripe, emits a milky juice, much resembling that of the silk plant (Asclepius syriaca).

When solitary, or on the prairies, it is usually barren; but its branches become more expanded, the colour of the foliage of a richer green, and its top assumes a rounded and beautiful appearance. The wood is coarse grained, of a deep yellow colour, and is held in high estimation by the Indians, on account of its great elastic properties. They manufacture it into bows, which become articles of commerce, and are sometimes exchanged for peltries, &c. I knew a Sioux to give his horse for a single one; and among the upper tribes they frequently bring three or four beaver skins each. This tree is so highly valued, that they never destroy it, except when wanted for use, or in the territories of their enemies; in the latter case, they make its destruction as particular an object, as they do that of their game. It probably would afford a beautiful yellow dye, and to a certainty, add a rich variety to inlaid cabinet furniture.

The tree is hardy, and would probably flourish in any part of the United States, between the parallel latitudes of 30° and 40°, and perhaps still farther north. It appears, both for utility and ornament, to hold out sufficient inducements to warrant particular attention to its cultivation.

From Memoirs of a Captivity Among the Indians of North America by John Dunn Hunter; 3rd edition, pp172-174. (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Ohme, Brown, & Green, 1824.)

Related site: Building the Osage Bow

4 comments -- please add yours:

Collagemama said...

Osage orange trees are called bois d'arc (bodark)here in N. Texas. My dad from NE Nebraska called them horse apple trees. This was very confusing when I was little, because my mom would talk about horses leaving "road apples". About the same time, Roger Miller had that song, "God didn't make the little green apples, and it don't rain in Indianapolis in the summer time".

When we lived in Oklahoma my kids wanted to know about the inside of a horse apple, so I cut one open with a kitchen knife. I never could get the sticky white "milk" off the knife, and had to throw it away. You could probably caulk a bathroom shower with that stuff!

Genevieve said...

I will try to file your story into my long-term memory just in case I ever get the urge to dissect a hedgeapple.

Anonymous said...

My name is Bruce and I live in Kentucky. I'm trying to find some osage orange trees so I can make some bows.I'm not in bussiness but as a hobby and all need is a few branches. I can't find any osage orange trees here in Kentucky, but I know there here some where. Can anyone help me find some trees.I live in Daviess County in Kentucky my email is baphilp@hotmail.com. Hope to hear from someone. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I live in north-western Illinois. We have osage orange trees here. I have seen quite-a-few!! Or Are they something else? Alot of people use the balls to keep spiders away. Has anybody out there heard of doing this and do you know if it really works? I put the "balls" under my car seat,under my bed,in my basement and everywhere else I might think spiders might come to hide over the winter!!! I hope its NOT just an "old wise tale". I HATE SPIDERS!!!!

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Enrich your life with the study of trees.

"The power to recognize trees at a glance without examining their leaves or flowers or fruit as they are seen, for example, from the car-window during a railroad journey, can only be acquired by studying them as they grow under all possible conditions over wide areas of territory. Such an attainment may not have much practical value, but once acquired it gives to the possessor a good deal of pleasure which is denied to less fortunate travelers."

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Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

Photos and text copyright © 2006-2010 by Genevieve L. Netz. All rights reserved. Do not republish without written permission. My e-mail address is gnetz51@gmail.com