Osage-orange

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Osage-orange
Missing image
Osageorange7340.JPG



Osage-orange fruit
Scientific classification
Kingdom:Plantae
Division:Magnoliophyta
Class:Magnoliopsida
Order:Rosales
Family:Moraceae
Genus:Maclura
Species:M. pomifera

Template:Taxobox section binomial botany

The Osage-orange (Maclura pomifera) is a curious plant in the mulberry family Moraceae. It is also known as hedge-apple, horse-apple, bois d'arc, bodark (in Texas), and bow wood.

The species is dioeceous, with male and female flowers on different plants. It is a small deciduous tree or large shrub, typically growing to 8-15 m tall. The fruit, a syncarp of achenes, is roughly spherical, but bumpy, and 7-15 cm in diameter, and it is filled with a sitcky white sap. Fall color is a bright yellow-green with a faint orange odor.

The plant is native to an area in the central United States consisting of southwestern Arkansas, southeastern Oklahoma, a narrow belt in eastern Texas, and the extreme northwest corner of Louisiana, but was not common anywhere. It was a curiosity when Meriwether Lewis sent some slips and cuttings to President Jefferson in March 1804. The samples, donated by "Mr. Peter Choteau, who resided the greater portion of his time for many years with the Osage Nation" according to Lewis' letter, didn't take, but later the thorny Osage-orange was widely naturalized throughout the U.S. The sharp-thorned trees were planted as cattle-deterring hedges before the introduction of barbed wire, and the wood was also used to make fence posts that preserved well in the ground.

The trees picked up the name bois d'arc, or "bow-wood", because early French settlers observed the wood being used for bow-making by Native Americans. The people of the Osage Nation "esteem the wood of this tree for the making of their bows, that they travel many hundred miles in quest of it," Meriwether Lewis was told in 1804. The heavy and closely grained yellow-orange wood is also prized for tool handles.

The heavy, fleshy fruit are torn apart by squirrels to get at the seeds, but few other native animals make use of it as a food sorce. This is unusual, as most large fleshy fruits serve the function of seed dispersal, accomplished by their consumption by large animals. One recent hypothesis is that the Osage-orange fruit was eaten by a giant sloth that became extinct shortly after the first human settlement of North America. An equine species that went extnict at the same time also has been suggested as the plant's original dispersal mechanism because modern horses and other livestock will eat the fruit. Humans do not eat this fruit because of its bitter taste; it has also been used as a spider deterrent. Where not eaten by horses, they are mostly left to rot where they fall if not found by squirrels.

References

  • Barlow, Connie and Paul Martin, 2002.The Ghosts of Evolution: Nonsensical Fruit, Missing Partners, and Other Ecological Anachronisms, which covers the now-extinct large herbivores with which fruits like Osage-orange and Avocado co-evolved in the Western Hemisphere.
  • Mabberley, D.J. 1987. The Plant Book. A portable dictionary of the higher plants. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 706 p. ISBN 0521340608.
  • Smithsonian March 2004, p. 35.

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