Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

What hedge apple, horse apple, monkey ball, Osage orange, and mock orange refer to

with 41 comments

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.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

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Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 16, 2018 at 4:37 AM

41 Responses

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  1. They are fun to roll down hills.

    Jim R

    December 16, 2018 at 6:57 AM

    • That’s easier and less destructive than keeping the fruits still and rolling the hills up around them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 16, 2018 at 7:30 AM

      • True. We used to live at the top of a hill on Walnut St in a previous town. And, we had walnut trees in our back yard. Each fall, my son and I would gather them in his little red wagon and roll them down the 3 blocks from our house. We never tried moving the hill.

        Jim R

        December 16, 2018 at 10:43 AM

        • I think not trying to move the hill was a prudent decision.

          Someone should do a study of how often a street name matches something along that street, like your walnuts at a property on Walnut St. Non-matching examples are probably much more numerous.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 16, 2018 at 10:59 AM

  2. We have a lot of Osage Orange or bodark (as they’re referred to around here – from the French bois d’arc mean “bow wood.”) I understand Native Americans used the wood for making hunting bows and for fishing spears. Also, they extracted a bright yellow dye from the wood. I have never observed anything eat the fruits. I pick them up off the ground and use the apples for seasonal decorating. They keep their color for several months.

    Littlesundog

    December 16, 2018 at 7:45 AM

    • We should tell people that you live in Oklahoma, ground zero for bois d’arc trees. Like you, I’ve read about the trees’ wood going for bows and spears and dye. Also like you, I’ve never seen an animal eat or try to eat the fruits.

      Beneath the trees that featured in the previous post Eve collected half a dozen Osage oranges and brought them home, where she put them on display as early Christmas ornaments. An elderly friend who died a year ago was fond of the fruits, and I used to bring her some when I found good ones while out on my rambles.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 16, 2018 at 8:37 AM

      • I find the fruits beautiful. It’s just too bad they don’t retain that shocking green color forever.

        I really need to write a post on the work I do culling the younger bois d’arc trees from the orchard. The rest of the acres have many of these thorny wonders but there is no way to eradicate all of them at least for one woman! I have become ensnared in the branches just trying to load them on the trailer for burning. The tiny thorns are very difficult to handle. I cannot imagine anyone dealing with them in order to hone a bow or spear!

        Littlesundog

        December 16, 2018 at 9:07 AM

        • We look forward to seeing that article. What you say about getting ensnared in these “thorny wonders” explains why people once used rows of them as fences. As much of a nuisance as the thorns can be, somehow the Osage succeeded in making bows from the wood.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 16, 2018 at 9:48 AM

    • What?! I never saw them! How could I have missed them? Are they common, or just in isolated colonies? Do you happen to know if they are prominent around Pecan Valley Junction?

      tonytomeo

      December 16, 2018 at 2:36 PM

      • As far as I know they are found throughout Oklahoma. We have a lot of them on our property. I keep them out of the orchard, but in other places on this 62 acres they’re thick as thieves!

        Littlesundog

        December 16, 2018 at 4:56 PM

        • So I could have seen them and not even known them. I would have remembered the fruit, but did not see any. Persimmons were common about this time of year. There was so much that I did not recognize. I got to get close to some of it around Lake Thunderbird. I do not remember anything thorny.

          tonytomeo

          December 16, 2018 at 7:50 PM

  3. Good morning, Steve,
    And thanks for mentioning my comment.
    As far as I know, those fruit are edible in the sense that they are not poisonous, but they’re said to have a horrible chemical taste. I remember that our housekeeper once tried (to eat) some of the seeds. She didn’t spit them out immediately in disgust, but she didn’t swallow them either.
    We have three old multi-trunked Bodarks here on our property, and two of them bear those fruits. In the autumn the ground below them is covered in those horseapples. Check that out here:
    https://wp.me/p4uPk8-9q
    https://wp.me/p4uPk8-9W
    I use the seeds to grow new trees myself, and so far have been quite successful:
    https://wp.me/p4uPk8-Ib
    https://wp.me/p4uPk8-1iB
    The one I planed out in the back yard by now is about 7 ft. It’s real fun to see them grow from seed to tree.
    Have a wonderful day,
    Pit

    Pit

    December 16, 2018 at 7:52 AM

    • From what you say about two of your trees bearing fruit and one not, it’s likely you have two females and one male. For this is a dioecious species, which is to say each tree is either male or female, rather than flowers of both sexes appearing on the same tree, as in many other species.

      Thanks for all those linked articles, which tell people so much more about this kind of tree. Your trailer load of “tennis balls” is quite something; I’ve never seen nearly as many in one place. And how nice that you’ve succeeded in getting new trees to grow from the fruit of the old.

      Here’s an article about the fruits not being technically poisonous but still causing problems in some animals that eat them:

      https://www.hunker.com/13429209/are-hedge-balls-poisonous

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 16, 2018 at 9:45 AM

      • Thanks for the interesting link, Steve. As to male/female trees: I agree with you that we have 1 female and two male trees.
        I’m glad you liked the postings the links lead to. That trailer load was really something, wasn’t it?

        Pit

        December 16, 2018 at 10:46 AM

  4. If I remember correctly, in The Valley (Rio Grande), bodarks were used to keep the cockroaches away!

    Judy turner

    December 16, 2018 at 10:08 AM

  5. This is an interesting tree from the Moraceae or mulberry family, same as the fig, and don’t know if you remember ‘breadfruit’ or ‘jackfruit’ from when you lived in Honduras, but they’re in the same family also. They all share the milky sap and may cause allergy. The fruit from this one reminds me of ‘breadfruit’ and even ‘jackfruit’, except this one is round in form and the tree is native to the US and the pulp is not consumed by human beings.

    Maria

    December 16, 2018 at 11:52 AM

    • I didn’t know that those two trees are in the mulberry family. I wasn’t aware of them in Honduras, at least not that I remember, but did get to know them later in the Philippines, where jackfruit is called langka in Tagalog and nangka in Visayan (my wife’s native language). Now that you’ve pointed out the shared botanical family, I can see some resemblance in the fruits. Too bad bois d’arc isn’t edible the way the other two are.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 16, 2018 at 12:04 PM

      • The U.S. also has the red mulberry (Morus rubra), and the common fig (Ficus carica). Both of these, along with Osage orange are in the same family, are deciduous, and grow in temperate weather in the U.S., although I still question why the USDA doesn’t list Ficus carica as ‘naturalized’. The common fig escaped cultivation a log time ago and the newer varieties haver fewer adventious roots. Most have been cultivated in the U.S. also.

        Maria

        December 16, 2018 at 12:47 PM

        • We had a mulberry bush on the side of the house I grew up in on Long Island. I still remember it and all its berries.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 16, 2018 at 3:16 PM

  6. Osage can you see, by the dawn’s early light…
    I’ve sniffed them, but never tasted one, and based on the comment above, won’t try it. I read that kiwi fruit, which I love, was pretty inedible in its wild state, and I wonder if those clever Ag Tech hybridists might tackle these, I like jackfruit, too, and it would be great to have something similar.

    Robert Parker

    December 16, 2018 at 12:22 PM

    • Good question. That irritating milky sap sounds like a pretty big obstacle to breed away, but what do I know about such things? As you say, kiwi fruit—formerly known by the less promotable name Chinese gooseberry—seems to offer a worthy model of development. Maybe someday we’ll be able to proudly hail the results.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 16, 2018 at 3:20 PM

  7. All of the fine qualities of the tree and its fruit have been covered in the above comments, so I don’t have much to add. I do have a cousin who collected them and left them around the perimeter of her house to keep the insects at bay. Whether the Osage orange did the trick, I can’t say, but I never heard any complaints about insects.

    As for the dangers of the fruit, cattle and horses do sometimes die from eating them: not because they’re poisonous, but because they get stuck in their esophagus and block the digestive tract. Personally, I’d tuck them into the category called “neither poisonous nor palatable.” From what I’ve heard, no one’s going to eat enough hedge apple to be poisoned because no one could stand to eat enough of the fruit to be poisoned.

    Your photo does show their visual appeal. You were lucky to find such a nice color match between the fruit and the leaves, and to find the unblemished fruit still on the trees. When I stopped to photograph some in Osage County, Kansas, the trees were so large that it was easy to photograph the fruit against a blue sky.

    shoreacres

    December 17, 2018 at 6:48 AM

    • Well said: “no one’s going to eat enough hedge apple to be poisoned because no one could stand to eat enough of the fruit to be poisoned.” And the color match between fruit and leaves that you pointed out is one reason this scene pleases me as much as it does. Because I’d forgotten that this tree is there, my rediscovery of it in that condition on that afternoon was most welcome. And because it sits at a lower level than the sidewalk along the busy Mopac freeway, I was unusually able to aim horizontally at an upper portion of the tree.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 17, 2018 at 8:22 AM

  8. I have always been fascinated by the furrowed fruit of this tree, Steve, ever since I first saw one on a ranch where I like to bird. Definitely not native to Colorado.

    tanjabrittonwriter

    December 18, 2018 at 9:44 AM

    • It’s hard not to be fascinated by those brain-like fruits. The comments at

      https://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/54097/#b

      offer up a slew of reminiscences from people who grew up with these trees. I noticed one from New York City, where bois d’arcs definitely aren’t native either.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 18, 2018 at 11:17 AM

      • Fascinated by and inspired to create one unusual name after the other! 😊

        tanjabrittonwriter

        December 18, 2018 at 4:56 PM

        • In one case, we can see how French bois d’arc became English bodark, which then became, for some people, bodock (which I’d never encountered till I read those comments).

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 18, 2018 at 5:04 PM

  9. I can just imagine a squirrel trying to get one of those many-named fruits up a tree—they are determined critters!

    Susan Scheid

    December 20, 2018 at 5:35 PM

    • I sure wish I’d seen that, as Pit described it. Plenty of squirrels scamper around our house but alas, there’s no bois d’arc tree anywhere in the neighborhood that I’m aware of. A few days ago a squirrel jumped, for the first time ever, right onto the windowsill of the room where I’m typing now, but I couldn’t tell what it was determined to get from that leap.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 20, 2018 at 5:46 PM

  10. There they are! They are heavy, too. I remember them landing with a solid thud.

    melissabluefineart

    January 8, 2019 at 10:52 AM

    • This is the tree we drove past a little while ago that I noticed still has some of the fruits attached. I think they usually don’t last this far into the winter.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 8, 2019 at 2:03 PM

      • That is interesting. Perhaps the tree’s branches aren’t getting the cue to let go. Up here we see a lot of change from the climate change, but it is already hot down there so I wouldn’t expect it to affect your trees as much. Do you see changes? Also I notice that changes come more to the spring blooming species, much less to the summer blooming ones. As you would expect.

        melissabluefineart

        January 9, 2019 at 10:06 AM

        • I don’t have a baseline from previous decades so it’s hard to tell whether I’m seeing things that are really new or just fluctuations that have been with us for a long time. For example, goldeneye does seem more often to keep blooming past its traditional fall dates and into the winter:

          https://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com/2019/01/05/if-youve-got-it-flaunt-it/

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 9, 2019 at 1:38 PM

          • I just read that spring comes about a week earlier and fall about a week later than in the 70’s in the eastern forests. Trees are greening up sooner and growing faster. It isn’t surprising, then to see summer lasting longer in other habitats.

            melissabluefineart

            January 11, 2019 at 10:16 AM

            • I may have mentioned to you that we saw a television documentary a few months ago pointing out that some farmers way up north have begun planting crops for which the growing season was previously too short.

              Steve Schwartzman

              January 11, 2019 at 10:40 AM

    • By the way, I’m relieved the thud wasn’t on you.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 8, 2019 at 2:04 PM


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