Saturday, December 19, 2009

Osage Oranges

Curious as I spotted the yellow fruits on a bush along the wetlands of the frozen lakes near Rock Island, WA, my son said he didn't know what they were called, but remembered having seen baskets full of them in the fall markets when he was a student at Iowa State University - with a sign indicating they would ward off spiders. Up close, the bush turned out to be more of a thicket comprised of many bushes rather than one stand-alone bush, and every branch was covered with long, wicked-looking thorns. Some of the fruits still hung on the bush, yet others had fallen to the ground along with its leaves.In the middle of a deep freeze with afternoon temperatures reaching barely into the mid teens, they were all frozen solid. Even though frozen, they were still slightly sticky when I picked one up and had just a hint of a fragrance that reminded me slightly of pine, yet was a bit different. We examined them more closely out in the field as my son broke one of the frozen fruits open. Inside was a round of seeds about the size of sunflower seeds surrounded by segments of a rather fiberous material. Placing one of the frozen fruits into my pocket so I could study it more closely later, he told me that he had also gathered a few for himself BEFORE the big freeze and would show me once we got back home.
By the time we got back to his kitchen, my frozen specimen was beginning to thaw and become slightly soggy, but we were still able to cut it open to get a good look inside. Then I had to find out more. Using what few hints we had, I went to Google Images and typed in "orange fruit spider repellent", and instantly gained access to the entire history of the Osage orange, aka horse-apple, hedge apple, Bois D'Arc, or Bodark, Maclura pomifera, monkey brains, and a multitude of other names. Turns out they're originally native to the Osage Nation area of Texas and Oklahoma, the Osage Indians found the wood of the Osage orange tree made the best bows and the fruits were indeed used as a spider repellent. The bush was spread throughout our country by farmers before the invention of barbed wire because it thrived in hedge rows around pastures and worked well to fence in cattle.
More pics of the Osage oranges we found.

Definitely NOT a fan of spiders in my home NOR harsh chemicals, now that I know where there is a supply of a "natural" spider repellent, next year I'll make it a point to gather a small basket of Osage oranges in the early fall - before the fruits have frozen on the vine.

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