Plant mystery solved

Published 5:16 pm Friday, October 10, 2008

TRAP—What’s green, round and has bumps all over?

It sure sounds like the opening line of the latest joke, but it’s what John Chamblee of Francis Mill was pondering when he recently happened upon a large fruit with that very description.

“It’s a strange sight,” he said of the vast tree producing the odd fruit.

He cut a sampling of the branches, snagged a couple of the bright green fruit from the tree and set out to seek answers on what he found.

Chamblee eventually made his way to the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald office in Ahoskie with the branch and fruit in hand.

“You see a lot of different wildflowers (and other plants),” he said about his mowing duties with Britt’s Services. “I just wanted to know what it was.”

Chamblee noted the long elliptical green leaves, the thorny bark on the branch and the fruit’s bright green textured skin.

He also brought along a half of the fruit, showing the white fleshy inside of the lime-colored globes. Chamblee said when he cut the fruit open a milky, opaque substance leached from it.

Chamblee was mowing the road shoulders along Quebec Road between Trap and Harrellsville when he came upon the tree producing the seemingly extraterrestrial-like fruit.

Bertie County Cooperative Extension Director Richard Rhodes said the tree Chamblee came across is called the Osage orange, which is rarity to the area.

“No, it’s not (common in the area),” he said. “It’s kind of a curiosity.”

The Osage orange is predominant in the central area of the country, particularly in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas where the tree is placed in hedgerows and utilized as a windbreaker.

According to information provided by Rhodes, the Osage orange is hardy in zones 4-9 (the Roanoke-Chowan area has a hardiness zone of 7).

The Osage orange also goes by the Hedge-apple or horse apple, with a French translation of bois d’arc and a scientific name: Maculra pomifera.

Though the tree produces the interesting neon-green fruit, it’s the wood of the tree that is most valuable.

Rhodes said the wood was often used to make bows and a yellow dye can be extracted from it as well.

Though most say the tree was introduced in 1818, according to the Missouri Conservationist magazine, early explorers found the tree growing near Osage Indian villages.

The Osage people, originally native to the Ohio Valley, were known for their bow making. Made from the wood of the Osage orange, the Osage bow was highly prized for its balance.

Corralling farm animals is another exploit the Osage orange tree was used for before fencing. Now, the wood is also used for wooden fences.

The wood is also known for its resistance to rot. According to information from Rhodes, the wood contains tetrahydroxystillbene, which is toxic to a number of fungi and may explain the wood’s resistance to decay.

The fruit on the other hand is inedible and has no use…for humans anyways.

Squirrels, however, find the hundreds of seeds at the center tasty, especially during the winter months. They will find anyway to dig through the fleshy part of the fruit to obtain their prize and often leaving a muddle of pulp in their wake.

Rhodes’s information notes the large green fruit can be trouble makers: “the large fruits are a nuisance and a problem around public areas as people invariably use them for ammunition.”

As for Chamblee, he finally found the answer to his question—on his own. Leaving a message on the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald’s voicemail, Chamblee revealed his search had come to an end.

“I found an answer to my question,” he said. “It’s an Osage orange tree. …I went and looked at some books and found some things about it.”

Speaking with a few friends at a local store helped Chamblee find what he was looking for. Proving the age old adage: “Seek and you shall find,” has substance, even now days.

“I thought people around might be interested in seeing something they’ve never seen before,” said Chamblee “And I know I got a lot of people’s curiosity up asking people what it was.”