Thursday, November 5, 2009

Hanging Monkey Brains

Partial picture of an Osage orange. I am not sure what I was thinking when I started this... how could I possibly have had the time, or the patience, to complete all those little segments? But I did gain an intimate knowledge of the different sizes and shapes and patterns in there...

As the leaves fall away, revealing bare branches, the Osage orange trees stand out for the improbable green orbs hanging from their branches. The numerous orange-sized, chartreuse fruits look like earrings dangling from the tree's branches, or perhaps early Christmas ornaments. The fruits consist of many seeds that come out from the center like rays of sunshine. Each little segment could contain a seed, and all the segments get narrow and connect to the center.

Osage orange trees, also known as hedge apples, and called monkey brains by my students, aren't actually native here. They originally come from the Texas, southern Arkansas, and Oklahoma (OK!) areas, but were moved north as hedge row trees, where they remain today. These trees made barbed wire fences possible -- I'm not sure if that's because their thick, sharp thorns gave rise to the concept or because their rot- and termite-resistant wood was often used for the fenceposts on farms. Thus Osage orange trees were partially responsible for the transformation of our prairies into farm fields.

The seed balls, which provide hours of recess fun and squirrel food, aren't actually viable. I'm not certain if this is because we are just too far north for these trees to grow from seed, or if it's because the seeds aren't fertile. Osage orange trees are a variety that have distinct male and female trees, and female trees without male trees in the area will still fruit, but the fruits won't contain viable seeds. So maybe I am only in the vicinity of girl trees.


  1. Ahh Horse Apples! as we call them here in the south, where they are plentiful and the seeds quite viable, they are actually native here and whats interesting is that their only other relative worldwide hails from Australia and has similar fruits that are orange and small.

    These are actually dieing out slowly in their native range because they are considered a nuisance since the bid rotting fruits are difficult to get rid of and may cause car accidents when they get in the highways and interstates.
    The other reason is that there is no natural way for them to spread because they were once widely consumed by the woolly mammoth,as a favorite food,and their range wad identical to the woolly mammoth in north America and widespread. well there's really no woolly mammoths
    left we ate them all,so the osage oranges are dwindling slowly.

    I remember bowling these down the big hill as a child or using them as baseballs or just whatever, fun fruit even if not edible.

  2. That's really interesting... about the mammoths, I mean. And yeah, kids around here love to play with them, too. (Never heard of one as the cause of a car accident, though.)