The Curious Osage Orange Tree
On a recent walk through Morningside Park, Osage Oranges, also known as hedge apples and horse apples, littered the path below Morningside Avenue.
Wondering whether the strange orbs provide a seed bonanza for squirrels and raccoons, I gazed up at the overhanging branches where plenty of the softball-sized fruits were still hanging on the branches. (For an Osage Orange fruit dissection, visit Birder’s Lounge.)
The Osage Orange is a curious tree. Native to eastern Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, its wood was used by the Osage Indians to craft superb hunting bows. French trappers who encountered the native population and their bows named the tree bois d’arc, literally meaning “wood of the bow.” In the Protean, shape-shifting tradition of living languages, the bois d’arc eventually transformed into the Bodark tree.
“Growing up on the prairies of Oklahoma, one of the first trees I learned was the hedge apple or bow dock, as we ungrammatically called it,” wrote Gerald Klingaman, retired University of Arkansas Extension Horticulturist in a brief and lovely article on the Osage Orange. According to Klingaman and other sources, settlers in the Great Plains planted the fast-growing Osage Orange in hedge rows to create a living fence, a thick, thorny barrier that kept livestock in and unwanted varmints out. Barbed wire, invented in the 1870s, would eventually replace the Osage hedge rows, but the trees are used even today as fence posts. A stand of them is said to make a fine wind break.
My trusty field guide to New York City Trees asserts that the “state champion” Osage Orange is growing in someone’s yard out on Staten Island. (That would be 342 Seguine Avenue, if you care to visit.) I don’t know what it means to be a state champion tree. What qualifies a tree as a champion? Is it size or conformation or age or health or connections in high places or … what?
Well, whatever it is, my obsessive research has to stop some time (sadly, I do have other things to attend to), and there are, after all, things in the world that I really don’t need to know. I’m pretty sure the meaning of being a tree champion falls into that category. So, enough. We will now draw a veil around the New York state champion Osage Orange tree, and move on with our lives.
Until next time.Explore posts in the same categories: 2011, Fall, Flora, In the City, Morningside Park, November, NYC Parks, Seasons comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.