Lake Texoma

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Texomaland's Native Tree

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The bodark tree is special to Texomland for it was literally born of our region. Texomans can claim it as their native tree. Native Americans of yesterday and today use bodark wood to craft the best made and most dangerous bows in North America. French explorers of the 17th century named our Texomaland bodark the bois d’arc tree which means literally the wood of bow.


Pioneers corrupted the fancy French pronunciation into bodark. People also call it the Osage orange, hedge apple, yellow wood, horse apple, monkey apple, and naranjo chino tree. Most authorities cite that this unusual and highly productive tree is truly native to the Red River of the South basin in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.


Bodark Trees Soar into American History and Stay for the Long Run


In St. Louis on March 26, 1804, Meriwether Lewis described the bodark tree In a letter to Thomas Jefferson. Thomas, an avid horticulturist, ultimately grew 330 varieties of 89 species of vegetables and herbs, plus 170 fruits known in his era at his Monticello plantation. (1) Meriwether wrote his letter only a few weeks before leaving on the famed Lewis and Clark Corp of Discovery expedition. One of this expedition’s main goals was botanical discovery, but Meriwether found new plant forms before he left. Meriwether’s bodark tree discovery became one of the most significant botanical finds for Lewis and Clark.


As you will see, from the time of Meriwether’s account, the bodark tree wove its story through our history like a flowing river, and it has not stopped because its usefulness continues today. Meriwether met a man named Pierre Choteau, a former Indian agent, who had acquired the Osage apple tree from an Osage village 300 miles west of the village of St. Louis. (2)


Meriwether wrote to Thomas*: "I send you herewith inclosed, some slips of the Osages Plums, and Apples. I fear the season is too far advanced for their success. . .The pulp is contained in a number of conacal pustules [achenes], covered with a smooth membranous rind, having their smaller extremities attached to the matrix, from which, they project in every direction, in such manner, as to form a compact figure. The form and consistancy of the matrix and germ, I have not been able to learn. . .The trees which are in the possession of Mr. Choteau have as yet produced neither flowers nor fruit. . .An opinion prevails among the Osages, that the fruit is poisonous, tho' they acknowledge that they have never tasted it. The fruit is the size of the largest orange, of a globular form, and a fine orange colour." (2) 


Livestock and Wildlife


A belief existed that the bodark fruit poisoned livestock. Horses and other livestock actually choke to death on the large balls of fruit because they lodge in their throats. Squirrels, opossums, raccoons, and even deer eat bodark apples. But the bodark tree also lived in Texomaland during prehistoric times. Evidence exists that mastodons, wooly mammoths, and giant sloths fed on hedge apples. In Texomaland, hedge apples provided nourishment for the Columbian mammoth until about 11,700 years ago when they died out. (5,1)


The Bodark Cash Crop


Bodark trees played a huge role in the taming of the Wild, Wild West. Before the invention and popularity of barbed wire, bodark hedgerows protected crops and created corrals for livestock. (6,1) Pioneer settlers planted bodark trees one foot apart in a single row. As the young trees grew, landowners plashed (wove) their limbs together. In three to four years, they had grown an impenetrable barrier, By the mid 19th century, bodark trees sold like hotcakes in nurseries and bodark seeds topped out at $50 a bushel.


In 1860, the state of Texas exported enough bodark seeds to grow 3,000,000 trees for 60,000 miles of bodark hedgerows. Miles upon miles of bodark hedgerows crisscrossed America. The bodark tree grows in our lower 48 states today. If you happen along a cluster of bodark trees in forested areas, you may be standing on an 1850 homestead of yesteryear. (7)


Hard as Nails


The good ol’ bodark tree survived its economic rise and fall from being “the” fence to providing the hardest fence posts available that supported the newly introduced barbed wire by 1880. Bodark wood is so hard that fence posts carved from it can last for over 100 years. Rims, spokes, and hubs of wagon wheels made from bodark wood moved Americans and hauled goods across our country for years. We used its timber for bridge supports, railroad ties, telephone poles, tool handles, housing foundation piers, paving stones, and much more. (8, 9)


Bodark Supplies Relief from Dust Bowl and Depression Era Effects


The bodark tree provided jobs for one of Franklin Roosevelt’s (FDR) Works Progress Act (WPA) programs in 1934. (6,1) The United Forest Service under the FDR administration employed the bodark tree to help lessen future effects learned from the farming technology that created Dust Bowl catastrophe. The Great Plains Shelterbelt project eventually planted 220 million bodark trees from Canada to the Brazos River in Texas in a 100-mile-wide swath of 18,600 miles. They forest service hoped that the trees would prevent wind and soil erosion of the land. (10)


The Bois D’Arc


Although numerous historians give the Osage Indians the credit for the most powerful bow construction in Native American history, all the tribes who lived in the regions where the bodark tree grew natively carved bodark bows. Today, a new generation of Native Americans keeps the art of bodark bow-making alive. The Caddo Indians have a long history of bodark bow-crafting, and you can find Cherokee and other American tribesmen who create bodark bows and arrows.


The Caddo tribes are historically associated with making bodark bows and trading them to other tribes who often traveled hundreds of miles to acquire them. In 1810, a Native American paid the price of one horse and one blanket for one bodark bow. (3) Tribes from Ohio, the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, the northern Great Plains, and the American and Mexican southwest prized bows crafted from bodark wood. (4)


Please take a look at this website that belongs to Tim Grayson, hailed as a Cherokee national treasure, to obtain a wonderful educational understanding of bodark bow-making. (11) Today, artists utilize the versatility of bodark wood’s different ages and evolution of the wood’s color and texture after harvesting the tree in many artistic arenas. They create jewelry, sculptures, amazing turned wooden vessels, and more from bodark wood. The Native Americans use the bodark root for making a yellow dye and the bodark sapwood produces a resin used in tanning leathers.


The Scientific Bodark


The bodark tree is classified as the Maclura pomifera Moracea, stems the mulberry family, and is a relative of fig and breadfruit trees. Bodarks can grow from 40 to 60-feet-high with trunks at a 3-foot-circumference and thorny interwoven branches They grow into their largest sizes in the Red River basin. The bodark root system is vulnerable and weak but performs well in deep soil. (12) Male and female flowers bloom on separate trees. In late spring, the male flowers form short linear clusters and the female flowers form small, rounded balls in the leaf axils. (13)


Botanist Jeffrey Smith analyzed the bodark apple’s chemical makeup for the Journal of Economic Botany in 1981 as:


“Osajin and pomiferin are flavonoids present in the wood and fruit, which contains about 5% of total isoflavones. Primary components of fresh fruit include pectin (46%), resin (17%), fat (5%), and sugar (before hydrolysis, 5%). Moisture content of fresh fruits is about 80%.” (14)


Pioneers used bodark apples for pest control because they contain natural pesticides. They placed them in kitchen cabinets, basements, under floors, and other places where spiders and mice might have lurked. The concentration of pesticides in bodark apples is not high enough to protect against pests. They also become gooey and mushy by producing a green, milky substance and grow mold. (15, 16)


Bodark sapwood is light yellowish in color, and its inner hardwood is yellowish-orange in a young tree and turns golden brown in a mature tree. Bodark apples turn yellow, orange, and green before they ripen and fall to the ground.


Bodark Apples for Human Consumption?


I talked to an old-timer recently who gave me the idea to write this article, and he remembered his grandmother making candied bodark apples and Osage-orange jelly. Contrary to the popular belief that bodark apples are poisonous, the American settlers proved it edible. People dry the seeds for consumption. Wellness websites post unproven cancer cure recipes made from the bodark apple. You can search the web for information on how to prepare bodark seed, make bodark tea, and look up its healing properties.


* I found different parts of this letter on different sites, and I never found the whole letter together in one place.


Sources:


1. https://www.monticello.org/site/house-and-gardens/thomas-jeffersons-legacy-gardening-and-food


2. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/osage-oranges-take-a-bough-105043145/?no-ist=


4. https://www.news-leader.com/story/sports/outdoors/2016/09/14/osage-orange-trees-purpose-evolved-history-developed/90262216/


5. https://txmn.org/bptmn/the-mammoths-of-texas/


6. Hurt, R. Douglas. Forestry on the Great Plains, 1902-1942. Iowa State University. Sherow's Homepage.


http://www-personal.k-state.edu/~jsherow/hurt2.htm


Retrieved 2018-04-10.


7. Texas historian Walter Prescott Webb


Webb, Walter Prescott. The Great Plains. Boston, MA: Ginn &n Co., 1931.


8. https://www.mysanantonio.com/life/columnists/article/A-tree-with-many-names-also-has-many-uses-627930.php


9. https://tpwmagazine.com/archive/2008/aug/scout5/


10. 


a. "The "No. 1 Shelterbelt" celebrates 75 years". Southern Group of State Foresters.


http://www.southernforests.org/resources/publications/the-southern-perspective/the-southern-perspective-september-2010/update-from-the-states/the-no.-1-shelterbelt-celebrates-75-years


Retrieved 2018-04-10.


b. Jump up Sauer, Thomas. The Dust Bowl’s Prairie States Forestry Project: Model for an Effective Global Climate Change Strategy?. The ASA-CSSA-SSSA International Annual Meetings (November 4–8, 2007).


https://a-c-s.confex.com/crops/2007am/techprogram/P33604.HTM


Retrieved 2018-04-10.


11. http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Article/Index/7409


12. https://www.dirtdoctor.com/garden/Horse-Apples-Bois-d-arc-fruit_vq537.htm


13. http://texastreeid.tamu.edu/content/TreeDetails/?id=61


14.https://personal.evangel.edu/badgers/Web/Osage/History%20and%20Economic%20Uses.pdf


Smith, Jeffrey L.; Perino, Janice V. (January 1981). "Osage orange (Maclura pomifera): History and economic uses" (PDF). Economic Botany. 35 (1): 24–41. doi:10.1007/BF02859211. Retrieved 2018-04-10.


15. http://web.extension.illinois.edu/state/newsdetail.cfm?NewsID=15284


16. http://newsok.com/article/5564092/nature-you-will-a-hedge-apple-help-repel-pests


Pictures:


1. Plashing Bodark Trees Diagram


2. Bodark Turned Wood Vase


3. Mature Bodark Tree


4. Ripe Bodark Apple


5-7. Bowyer James Easter Bodark Bows


http://www.osageorange.com/james_easter_b.html


http://www.osageorange.com/Osage_Bows_tha.html


8. Bodark Wood Blank from Texas Woodcrafts


http://www.texaswoodcrafts.net/bodark/


 


 


 


 




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