An alternative to wooden fences on the treeless plains
Jonathan Baldwin Turner (1805-1899) is credited with popularizing Osage orange hedges on America's prairies in the mid-1800s. Turner came to Illinois in 1833 and taught at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, until 1847.
Turner was interested in the industrial development of Illinois. While he was a professor, he traveled around the state, talking about the need for industrial education (education related to work).
Everywhere Turner went, he saw that the lack of fencing material on the open prairies was holding back progress. Trees were unavailable to provide logs for split-rail fences. Farmers were limited in their ability to keep livestock or even to mark the boundaries of their land.
Turner was certain that hedges were the solution. He experimented with various native and foreign hedging plants, before settling on Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) as the best plant for the job. In four years time, a hedge of seedlings, planted 12 inches apart, was big enough and thorny enough to contain horses and cows, (though not always hogs).
After Turner left his job as a professor, he started a Osage orange nursery from which he sold seedlings. He made an intensive effort to popularize the Osage orange hedge, and by the time of the Civil War, seed was in high demand. Thousands of miles of Osage orange hedge were planted in Illinois, Iowa, and other prairie states by the 1870s.
The nursery was just one of Turner's projects when he left teaching. He became an activist for industrial education He was instrumental in getting the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act passed in 1862, under which many of America's state universities were created. He was also an active abolitionist and a member of the Underground Railroad. He is most famous for his work in these areas.
Barbed wire became widely available in the 1880s, and most of the Osage orange hedges were eventually grubbed out, but we still remember the hedges in one of the common names of Maclura pomifera -- "hedge apple tree". It is interesting that the Wikipedia entry about Jonathan Baldwin Turner doesn't even mention the words, "Osage orange."
The Men Who Led: Jonathan Baldwin Turner
The Osage Orange for Hedges
Credit: Image from Wikipedia.