While growing up in the inner St. Louis suburbs, I have relatively few memories of nature before entering my twenties. One memory that particularly stands out is on a trip south seeing an Osage orange fruit for the first time. Just what the heck was this strange fruit, so reminiscent of the cerebral cortex of the human brain? Like so many ignorant of nature, I wondered what its purpose was and why it had to be so creepy.
Thirty years later I realized I still did not know much about this tree. Sarah found this fruit on our trip through the Ozarks and I brought it back to make it the subject of this study. The common name, “Osage orange” is rather self explanatory. The name Osage comes from the Osage tribe that was historically found over much of Missouri and the fruit does resemble an orange, so commonly eaten. I have since learned that the best adaptive story to explain such a large amount of flesh covering the hidden nut is that the primary disperser of these seeds were the Mastadons. Following the disappearance of these large herbivores, humans became the primary dispersers of this species, planting these trees as windbreaks and fences. The wood of these trees is some of the heaviest, densest and hardest in the Ozarks. This fact plus the thorns on young branches made this the perfect species for such purposes.
The nature of this species wood also made them perfect for use in making bows by native Americans. This fact prompted the French to name them “Bois d’Arc” or bowwood. This name is the most favored in being responsible for the name “Ozarks” given to the hills and habitats of Missouri, Arkansas and surrounding states. It is theorized that Bois d’Arc was bastardized to “Bodark”, and later to Ozarks by English settlers. To my understanding, this cannot be proven, but is the best conjecture given by historians. That is why I titled this post “The Ozark Tree”.
So, I brought this fruit home and took it out in the backyard and placed it among colorful white-oak leaves, a milkweed pod, Monarda seed heads, and a prairie dock leaf. It is still siting in my backyard. I want to see, if left alone to rot over winter, whether or not the seeds will germinate.