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Osage orange

Osage orange
(image here)
Scientific classification
Family: Moraceae
Binomial nomenclature
Maclura pomifera

The Osage orange or bow wood (Maclura pomifera, syn. M. aurantiaca; Family Moraceae) is a curious plant. The species is dioeceous, with male and female flowers on different plants. The fruit, a syncarp of achenes, is roughly spherical, but bumpy, and about ten centimeters in diameter. The color is a bright yellow-green, with a faint orange odor.

The plant is native to Arkansas and Texas, possibly Oklahoma, but later widely naturalized throughout the U.S. by plantings as a living fence (because of thorns) in the 19th century. The sharp-thorned trees were planted as hedges before the introduction of barbed wire, and the wood was also used to make fence posts that preserved well in the ground. The trees picked up the name bois d'arc, or "bow-wood", because early French settlers observed the wood being used for bow-making by Native Americans. The heavy and closely grained yellow-orange wood is also prized for tool handles.

The heavy, fleshy fruit appears not to be eaten by any animal presently native to North America. This is unusual, as most large fleshy fruits serve the function of seed dispersal, accomplished by their consumption by large animals. One hypothesis is that the osage orange fruit was eaten by a giant sloth that became extinct around the same time as the first human settlement of North America. As horses and other livestock will eat the fruit, and the horse evolved in North America, horses have been suggested as the plant's original dispersal mechanism. Humans do not eat this fruit. Where not eaten by horses, they are mostly left to rot where they fall.