Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Osage Orange

An Osage orange I picked up along the upper reaches of the Potomac River and brought home. It has a most pleasing scent.

While Carole and I were exploring the Smokehole Canyon in West Virginia, I happened to see an Osage orange tree growing along the banks of a branch of the Potomac River. The tree had dropped ripe fruit into that river, perhaps aiding in spreading the seeds downstream.

And this reminded me of the fate of that tree.

The Osage orange is native to parts of Texas and Arkansas and Oklahoma. It does grow in other parts of North America due to it being planted by Europeans. I recall seeing them from time to time in the woods of my native Georgia where it was known as "the horse apple", because of the fact that horses will sometimes eat the ripe fruit.

The pre-Indian North American horse.

However, from evidence, it was once far more widespread than it is today. This is probably because the "oranges" were a favorite food of several large extinct mammals. Back then, the fruit would go through the digestive systems of these large animals and the seeds would be distributed widely in their travels within their dung. It's figured that such creatures as Mammoths, mastodons, giant sloths, and probably even horses ate Osage oranges and shat the seeds far and wide.

The Imperial mammoth, which likely ate lots of Osage oranges.

Alas, the arrival of humans to North America put an end to most of our continent's megafauna, and so the Osage orange lost its main vectors of distribution.

Today, you see it rarely out of its current range. But at one time it went wherever the big mammals roamed. Mammals that were all killed and eaten up by the vast tribes of the folk we now refer to as the Native Americans.

And now the tree probably best finds distribution via waterways?

(With a tip of the hat to Mark Gelbart's GEORGIA BEFORE PEOPLE.)


MarkGelbart said...


BTW, I'm currently reading The Flock.

It's well written.

HemlockMan said...

Thanks, Mark!