Since moving back to Catoosa, I have had my eyes peeled looking for a tree that grows near East Admiral Boulevard that I have admired every Summer growing up in Northeastern Oklahoma. This time of year it has giant glowing chartreuse globes covering it. Several years ago, I stopped and grabbed one of the brightly colored green globes on my way to my mom’s house. I was in graduate school at the University of Tulsa. I took the green globe to the ceramics studio and used it for it’s brain-like texture. The clay I squished it into has stayed with me as a precious sentimental reminder of my home. The memory of that tree and the texture left in the clay have traveled with me to three cities and halfway accross the country twice.
Today, driving home from Broken Arrow on the Creek Turnpike in my brother-in-law’s truck, I yelped excitedly “there they are”! On the side of the highway, I saw several trees loaded with giant green globes that looked neon in the hot Oklahoma Summer sun. Unfortunately, they were on the wrong side of the fence and I am not young and courageous enough to scale a barbed wired fence in two feet of prairie grass. The thought of finding a rattlesnake or being attacked by chiggers was unsettling. Regardless, I still wanted them. All of them!
My kind brother-in-law drove down a dirt road to look for more trees that were easier to access. Disappointed, we turned east homeward bound. There they were! Just where I remembered. Admiral Boulevard had been under construction due to the new Creek Turnpike and to lay water pipe since I last took a green globe from my tree. This tree was loaded, but they were all on top!
While we walked through prairie grass and pulled at limbs in the 99 degree Indian Summer heat, my sister sat in the truck air conditioning to google “hedgeapple”. We managed to get six or more of the brilliant green globes that were sticky with white sap.
Driving home, we learned the tree is an Osage Orange that is historically used as a barrier for cattle before barbed wire and fence posts were invented. They grow dense enough to keep bulls and hogs in or out and horses from jumping them. Growing in hedges as large as twenty feet high, but sometimes up to forty feet, they are a member of the mulberry family named for American geologist William Maclure. The name Osage Orange was coined by the Osage Tribe and incidentally smell slightly like an orange and in South Central part of Oklahoma in the Osage Mountains the color matures to bright orange in color.
In Indian Territory before statehood, hedges of the Osage Orange tree ran throughout the state for land barriers. The wood from the tree was later found to be termite resistant and used for fence posts and ship figureheads.
However, the trees are not prized for home shade trees and have fallen in popularity for many reasons. With the invention of barbed wire in Indian Territory in 1874, the use for the tree declined. The female trees that produce the fruit have long large thorns that can cause flat tires. When the fruit falls like bowling balls from the tree they are considered a nuisance in contemporary landscapes. Cows and livestock have been known to swallow the fruit whole which becomes lodged in the esophagus and causes death. And finally, the fruit are not edible by humans and produce a sticky sap that often causes an allergic reaction.
Although the fruit is inedible, it is highly marketable online at www.hedgeapple.com and in some flea markets. Why you ask? The Osage Orange is prized for it’s ability to repel insects.
Many swear that Osage oranges chase away bugs. The claim is to set them in cabinets, behind furniture and in chicken houses. The fruit and wood of the Osage orange tree does contain tetrahydroxystilbene, an anti-fungicide that may deter insects.
My purpose for the Osage Orange was quite different, but I discovered an unexpected history. I am an artist and plan to make a plaster mold of one fruit. This will enable me to make multiples and tell the historical reference in a different way. I see them for their unique beauty, color and significant part in the landscape of my childhood home. Now, I have the story of the six Osage Oranges that led to an adventure and revealed the historical and scientific context of a mysterious tree native to the state of Oklahoma.
Osage Orange Tree and the Blue Summer Sky
Our Haul of Osage Oranges
The Brain-like Texture that Lures Me In