Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Osage orange excels at yellow

with 43 comments

On December 1st we inaugurated not only a new month but a new place in nature, the Brushy Creek Trail East in Round Rock. Based on what another walker told me, the first stretch of the trail running east from A.W. Grimes Blvd. has been open only a couple of years. I’ve been extensively photographing nature in my little part of the world for two decades, so I was happy to be taking pictures in a new location.

Probably the most striking fall find along the trail that day was some osage orange trees whose leaves had turned yellow. The fallen leaf shown below had even gotten impaled on a thorn from one of the trees, something you don’t see every day. (Look for the slender northeast-to-southwest shadow and you’ll be able to pick out the thorn.*) I assume the breeze that stayed with us during our walk had earlier done the impaling.

Maclura pomifera, as botanists call this species of tree in the mulberry family, has been known popularly not only as osage orange but also as bois d’arc, bodark, hedge apple, horse apple, monkey ball, bow-wood, yellow-wood, and mock orange. That’s a lot of names for one tree.

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

* Just be careful that if you pick out the thorn you don’t dislodge the leaf.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 14, 2018 at 4:40 PM

43 Responses

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  1. The Osage Oranges in our yard have lost all their leaves by now.


    December 14, 2018 at 4:52 PM

    • I’m not surprised, given that the picture above is from two weeks ago. Not only that, but we’ve had plenty of wind since then, too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 14, 2018 at 5:11 PM

      • Oh yes, really plenty of wind!


        December 15, 2018 at 9:31 AM

        • I don’t remember late November and early December being as windy as we experienced this year. It complicated my picture-taking. I shied away from closeups and concentrated on broader views.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 15, 2018 at 9:52 AM

          • It does make things more difficult, I agree.


            December 15, 2018 at 12:09 PM

  2. Lovely yellows, as lovely as aspen. Just about all of the leaves are down up here in my area, even the reluctantly deciduous oaks, among the last to lose them.


    December 14, 2018 at 9:59 PM

    • I like the way you put that: reluctantly deciduous. A lot of the leaves here are down now too, thanks to more than the usual number of windy days recently. At the time of the picture in today’s post, we were having an unusually colorful showing for this far south.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 14, 2018 at 11:12 PM

  3. Did you see any evidence of fruit on these trees? Perhaps it had dropped off. I found one of the trees here not by the gorgeous yellow of its leaves, but by the fruit. The ground was covered with it, but there was such a tangle of trees and shrubs it took a while to sort it out. The pretty yellow leaves remind me of cottonwood; it’s such a pure, clear yellow.

    It’s interesting to overlay the rough boundaries of the Osage nation with a map showing the native range of the trees, and easy to see how ‘Osage orange’ became a common name — not to mention Bois d’Arc. It seems reasonable that those names became established first, and then began to spread, since there are Osage counties in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and Iowa. Of course, there’s a Bois d’Arc, Texas, too. It’s over by Palestine, and is unincorporated, with about a dozen or fewer residents, and not many of these trees. I know a couple who farm near there, and they pronounce it ‘BOW-dark.’

    I hope you enjoyed writing that last line as much as I enjoyed reading it.


    December 14, 2018 at 10:02 PM

    • As I don’t go fast because I keep stopping to take pictures, Eve often goes on ahead. It was she who noticed a few osage oranges on the ground at this spot and waited for me to catch up so she could point them out. A bit of nostalgia attends that, because an elderly friend of ours who died a year ago liked these fruits, and whenever I found a place with some unspoiled ones I would gather a few for her. In any case, to answer your question, no fruit was left on this tree, presumably because the persistent wind had sent the last precarious ones to the ground.

      What a good idea: overlay a map of the Osage nation on one showing the range of Osage orange.

      Given that the population of Bois dArc, Texas, was 10 in the year 2000, there could well be more bois d’arc trees than people in the town.

      And yes, I did enjoy writing that last line. I’m glad to hear you got equal pleasure out of it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 15, 2018 at 7:54 AM

    • We still have lots of “horseapples” under the Bodarks in our front yard. We leave them there because the deer munch on them.


      December 15, 2018 at 9:16 AM

      • I had no idea deer munch on horseapples. I wonder how widely known that is. Have you managed to photograph deer doing that?

        Steve Schwartzman

        December 15, 2018 at 9:23 AM

        • No, I don’t have a picture yet. I really should take one. Never thought of it. They eat them occasonally, if they can get a grip on them and bite into that hard fruit.
          Two days ago I saw a funny sight: a squirrel trying to take a horseapple – it was bigger than its head – up into the tree! That was hard going. On the ground, it always managed to get a hold on it with its teeth, and it got up on the tree trunk for about one or two feet. Then the weight seemed to prove too much and it got turned around. So it scooted down, took a new grip, and started another attempt. That went on for quite a while. I didn’t watch it to the end, though. I assumed that little guy finally gave up.


          December 15, 2018 at 9:29 AM

          • That would have made a great video. Let’s hope you see it again. If Osage oranges grew in ancient Greece, and if a squirrel there had struggled with one of these fruits in the way you’ve described, the encounter could have inspired a different myth of Sisyphus.

            Steve Schwartzman

            December 15, 2018 at 9:50 AM

            • Now that’s an interesting thought!
              I saw it – or a relative – again this morning, from out of the office window, while I was at the computer. But I think if I grabbed my video camera and went out and around the corner, it would disappear the moment it notices me.


              December 15, 2018 at 12:12 PM

              • Yes, that’s a problem. The rock squirrel that has taken to sitting on the railing of our deck is very sensitive to sound and movement, and quickly runs away. One avenue is to use a mainly still camera that also has video built in, which almost all of them do now. Then you could attach a telephoto lens so you wound’t have to get so close.

                Steve Schwartzman

                December 15, 2018 at 12:20 PM

                • Maybe I should be thinking of getting a remote control for my still camera [Nikon D 500]. Put it outside on a tripod and then start it from here in the office. It would be interesting to know if I could also start recoring a video with it. It does have video capability.


                  December 15, 2018 at 12:37 PM

                • My guess is that you can start a video with the remote control, though the camera may have to be set to video mode first. Different remotes may offer different capabilities, so you’ll want to check to see what features each one offers.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  December 15, 2018 at 4:42 PM

  4. I managed not to unpick the leaf. As you can see, it is still nicely impaled. The tree is very pretty. Interesting to see the fruit referred to as an apple.


    December 15, 2018 at 5:46 AM

    • Thanks for being so careful. I wouldn’t have wanted to come back here and find an uninteresting picture of bare branches.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 15, 2018 at 7:57 AM

  5. I loved these osage photos, Steve. And after you mentioned the slender thorn shadow, I curiously studied this photo for several minutes. Utter magnificence–the thorns, the shadows, the veins of the leaf. And I found the impaling thorn. I too like to find leaves, mushrooms, flowers, thorns in unusual poses like this. Many thanks.

    Jet Eliot

    December 15, 2018 at 10:36 AM

    • You’re most welcome, Jet. I appreciate your taking the time to hunt down the impaling thorn. I’m quite fond of backlit foliage, especially in the fall, when the translucence saturates the colors of the leaves.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 15, 2018 at 10:44 AM

  6. This is another species that I did not see in Oklahoma. It is not native to the area where we were, but was planted there a long time ago, and supposedly naturalized. However, I never noticed it.


    December 15, 2018 at 4:36 PM

    • Too bad you missed it. Central Texas may not have been part of its original range, but it grows in the wild here now.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 15, 2018 at 4:44 PM

    • Maybe I’ll try some time.


      December 16, 2018 at 9:15 AM

      • Might you have intended this comment to appear somewhere else? The referent isn’t clear to me.

        Steve Schwartzman

        December 16, 2018 at 10:15 AM

        • Ooops and sorry for not being more specific. 😦 I meant that I’d maybe try a remote with my camera at some time in the future, but not in the immediate.


          December 16, 2018 at 10:49 AM

  7. The tree is on farms in NYS, I think planted as a windbreak or hedgerow, but don’t remember seeing this nice yellow look in the fall. And don’t remember anyone calling the fruit “horse apples,” which I’ve always heard as an alias for horse droppings.
    When I looked up “bois d’arc” on Wikipedia, and saw its wood was used to make bows, there was something else interesting – – they also used some Osage wood for the Sultana, a schooner based in Chestertown, MD, which I lived on for five days, when I was in college there.

    Robert Parker

    December 15, 2018 at 9:55 PM

    • It surprises me that this tree is on farms in New York. I’ve read that people down in this general part of the country where the tree evolved used osage orange for fences because the wood resists rotting. The same property would work well on ships—though Sultana makes me think of raisins rather than schooners. And Chestertown is Camptown, chester coming from Latin castra ‘camp.’ But back to horse apples and hedge apples: the post scheduled for a few hours from now will show the large “apples” of this tree.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 16, 2018 at 2:02 AM

  8. […] The previous post highlighted (and backlighted) the yellow leaves on a tree that botanists call Maclura pomifera. The vernacular names hedge apple, horse apple, monkey ball, Osage orange, and mock orange all refer to the tree’s large and rugged fruits. Today’s photograph shows some that still clung to branches at the Arbor Walk Pond on December 3rd. In case you’re wondering, these fruits aren’t edible, at least not to people. Pit in Fredericksburg reports having seen deer eating them and a squirrel struggling to haul one up a tree; you can read descriptions in his second set of comments on the last post. […]

  9. Its leaves are a beautiful golden yellow. The color reminds me of my Gingko in Fall. It goes the same shade of golden yellow.


    December 17, 2018 at 8:30 AM

    • Given all the attention that red leaves get in the fall, yellow is probably under-appreciated. I’ve been working to promote it, partly out of necessity because that’s the predominant color of deciduous leaves here in central Texas.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 17, 2018 at 8:34 AM

      • The color our trees here in Nor Cal are too. Great idea promoting the golden and yellow hues!


        December 17, 2018 at 8:42 AM

        • I didn’t know that that’s true for you in northern California too, even though are climates and geography are so different. Live and learn.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 17, 2018 at 8:51 AM

  10. wow! popular post! yes, i remember this being called ‘bo-dock’ – bois d’arc/ as well as horse apple… i remember hearing once that some people tossed the horse apples beneath houses (wooden houses built on little raised blocks w/enough crawl space for water lines – and for dogs to stay cool/birth puppies, etc = then the smallest child (like me!) had the job of crawling under there to retrieve the puppies) ahem, and with the dogs were fleas, so the horse apples were supposed to help repel fleas.

    never knew if it worked or not!

    the internet is being stubborn tonight, y comments keep backfiring.. when this one goes through (fourth try) that’ll be all for my late-night ramblings!

    Playamart - Zeebra Designs

    December 21, 2018 at 10:05 PM

    • Isn’t it curious how some posts end up much more popular than others? Sometimes I can tell which ones will be popular—usually anything with an animal—but other times I’m surprised that something I thought would attract attention doesn’t, and vice versa.

      How interesting, except for fleas, that you had that childhood experience with bo-docks. Minus those fruits, the movie “The Three Faces of Eve” contains a scene in which a girl is called out from the crawl space of a Southern house and then faces something that traumatizes her:


      Without any trauma, more comments about bois d’arc fruit accompanied the post that came right after this one.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 22, 2018 at 8:25 AM

  11. I love these trees. We had them in Peoria. Their fruits looked like a cross between a brain and a softball. I’m glad you have a new area to explore.


    January 8, 2019 at 10:32 AM

    • About an hour ago we drove past the site shown on the post that followed this one and I noticed some of the osage oranges are still on the tree, even if they’re turning yellow.

      Yes, it’s always exciting to find a new local place to explore. That slightly offsets the many I’ve lost to development in recent years.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 8, 2019 at 2:01 PM

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