The Waking Tree: Introduction

Scientific name:           Maclura pomifera

Common names:        Hedge tree, Bois d’arc, Osage Orange

In Texas, we call it bodark.  The Osage Indians used to make bows from its curved and supple limbs.  Two of the tree’s names are derived from this fact.  (Bois d’arc means “wood of the bow.”  The fruit of the female tree gives off a slight citrus scent, hence the name Osage Orange.)  I couldn’t find any Osage Indians to ask what they called the tree.

Mention bodark trees in conversation and most people will have a story to tell.  They’ll ramble about the beauty and hardness of the wood that sparkles and pops when you throw it on a fire unless it’s dried.  Then it burns long, with almost as much energy as coal.

Makes a nice mandolin, if you’re patient and you keep your tools sharp.

Before barbed wire was invented, people planted bodarks close together as a natural fence.

Many older Texas homes have a bodark piers and beams because of the wood’s resistance to fungus and rot.

Bodarks grow almost anywhere. I heard there are some in Maine.

When you mention the bodark tree, people have to tell you what they used to do with the fruit of the tree when they were little kids. We call the fruit “horse apples.” Monkey brains is a better description for its convoluted, day-glo green exterior. The juice inside looks like Elmer’s Glue and is almost as sticky. Horse apples demand to be thrown, split open and dissected. Magic orbs from another planet.

People will also tell you what they do with the fruit now. They put them around their houses–under beds, in closets and drawers—to keep away spiders and other insects. They don’t eat them. Squirrels do, though. They act drunk when they eat the fermented ones, some people say.

Some people hate the trees. They’re sick of the piercing thorns that fall on the ground. They’re tired of picking up the messy fruits the tree tosses all around. Cattle have been known to choke on horse apples.

Emotions for the bodark are extreme.

Me, I like how they hide in corners, how their bare winter limbs shoot up and out like a fountain.   I like the stories they tell.


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