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.