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

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Jonathan Baldwin Turner and Osage orange hedges

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."

More:
The Men Who Led: Jonathan Baldwin Turner
The Osage Orange for Hedges

Credit: Image from Wikipedia.

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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."

Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927)

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.

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