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Osage Orange

What is the Osage Orange?

Mammoths were hairy elephants belonging to the genus Mammuthus. They were cold-climate adapted and lived in Europe until 4,500 years ago. Both hunters and climate change wiped them out. Elephants are descended from mammoths that are no longer alive. Did you know that there is a fruit that depended on the mammoth for survival? 

The Osage Orange tree is an anachronistic species that relied on extinct megafaunas such as mammoths and ground sloths. It survived extinction because its wood can be used to make bows.

What is Inside the Osage Orange Fruit? 

The fruit of the Osage Orange is large, round, hard, wrinkled, or bumpy in texture, pale green or lime green in color, and 8-15cm (3-6′′) in diameter, with a pleasant orange-peel odor. 
They are often available during the summertime. When the fruit is cut open, it reveals a white pulp, milky sap, and numerous tiny seeds. A bitter, milky juice is released when the fruit is crushed. (Source: National Geographic)

Is Osage Orange Fruit Edible? 

Unfortunately, the osage orange fruit is not edible, and most foraging animals will not eat it. The tiny seeds inside are the only edible part, and they are only consumed by squirrels and deer. 
Osage Oranges are unusual fruits because both humans and most animals avoid their bitter flesh which is deemed not safe to eat. Although smaller mammals, eat the seeds of the fruit, larger livestock ends up choking on them and dying. (Source: National Geographic)

What is the Use of The Osage Orange Tree? 

The wood of the Osage Orange tree is highly prized because it yields a beautiful hard yellow-orange timber with straight grain, a fine to medium texture, and a high natural luster. Its usefulness outweighs its beauty.
Osage Orange wood is exceptionally durable and regarded as one of the most decay-resistant woods in North America; it is occasionally used for railway ties and fence posts. It’s also a solid wood in high demand for archery bows. Native Americans used it to make bows and war clubs in the past. It also makes excellent firewood. (Source: National Geographic)

Where Can you Find the Osage Orange Fruit Today?

The natural range of the Osage Orange is limited to east-central Texas, South Eastern Oklahoma, and adjacent Arkansas in the Red River region. Indians would travel hundreds of miles to obtain the best wood for making bows. The tree’s ability to spread via shoots from lateral roots was then exploited by European settlers, who planted it extensively as living fences. 

On the other hand, Osage Orange persisted and became widely naturalized long after barbed wire rendered them useless to farmers. The tree is now found in 39 states as well as Ontario.(Source: National Geographic)

Why was Osage Orange Restricted to a Specific Space?

The most sensible explanation is the disappearance of its primary disperser. Without the help of mammoths, ground sloths, and other megafauna to transport its seeds uphill, the species’ range gradually shrank to the Red River region. 
Fossils show that Osage Orange was much more common and diverse before the megafaunal extinctions. This tree could also be found up to Ontario, Canada. (Source: National Geographic)

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