Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Osage Orange

When we were in Missouri recently,
we saw dozens of osage orange trees laden 
with their round green fruit, 
sometimes called hedge apples.
(Search Google images "osage oranges" 
for some good photos of this nubby green, inedible fruit.
I couldn't find any copyright-free images that did them justice.)

Such trees are not common here as far as I know.
However, they are prevalent in the Midwest, Oklahoma, and Texas, 
having been planted by the hundreds in prairie days 
to form impenetrable hedges to fence in livestock.

Although there are no osage orange trees in the Shire,
it turns out there is at least one in Virginia.
In fact, the biggest and oldest osage orange tree in the U.S. 
is in Brookneal, Virginia at Patrick Henry's estate Red Hill.
According to www.redhill.org
the champion osage orange likely arrived in Virginia
as part of the collection of plant specimens 
brought back from the Lewis and Clark expedition.

And legend has it that Patrick Henry sat under the tree 
and played the fiddle for his grandchildren.
Here's a link to one photo of the osage orange tree at Red Hill,
which is an incredible 27-feet around:

Here's another, a more recent view of the Red Hill osage orange:

Now that I know it's there, I think a road trip is in order this spring.
Generally, I'm not the kind of person that seeks out roadside sights
like the world's largest ball of twine, for example,
(although if it's on the way, I'd definitely stop),
but I do go out of my way to see unusual natural phenomena and historic sites.
The biggest osage orange, and Red Hill for that matter,
both seem like they would be worth the trip.

I've read that the wood of osage orange trees was once sought after
as some of the best wood with which to make bows (for arrows).
But I knew it more as a fence post material.
I've never seen osage orange branches used as fence posts here,
but they were once common along fields and pastures in the midwest
because the dark orange wood is rock hard and impervious to insects and rot.
Here is one that my father salvaged for me:

I love its rough texture and the old barbed wire still wrapped around it.
For a chunk of wood,
it holds lots of happy memories,
as does the sight of bright green osage oranges in the autumn.

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