Sunday, October 31, 2010
What is it?
Sunday, Bill and I took advantage of the beautiful fall weather and took a drive to the country. We stopped at St. Francois State Park about forty-five miles from home and walked through the campground. The leaves have peaked in color and are now mostly smudges of brown against the blue sky.
Most of the campers had packed up and pulled out by 1:00 p.m. The air was thick with wood smoke from campfires. I loved hiking and crunching through dead leaves. And there is nothing more inspiring to this writer than the sound of a babbling river.
We spoke with the campground host, Stanley Hicks, who was very informative when it came to my discovery. I happened upon these hedge apples, scientifically referred to as Maclura Pomifera. They are the fruit of the thorny, Osage Orange tree, native to Oklahoma and Arkansas. Years ago, before the invention of barbed wire, settlers planted the hedge apple seeds close together in order to grow thorny hedge rows to keep their cattle in and the wild hogs out. There are male and female trees, and of course, the female trees bear the fruit. It takes ten years for the trees to mature, and there is no way to tell the tree's gender until it grows its fruit. It drops it in the fall. The globes are about six inches around or better, have a green puckered, dimpled surface. When ripe, they fall from the thorny trees and give off a slight citrus odor. Cows and horses have been known to choke on them. Legend has it they contain a natural bug repellent, and scientists have discovered a chemical compound that does act as a repellent to roaches, but it is buried deep inside the heavy balls. Hedge apples stay green for about three months and then they start to rot and turn brown. Squirrels love these fruits and work hard to dig the individual encased seeds out. The Osage Indians used the wood of the Osage Orange tree to make arrows.
Mr. Hicks volunteers four months of the year in Missouri State Parks. One of his duties is campground host with the Department of Natural Resources. He explained that Missouri State Parks are funded strictly by sales tax revenue. While the sales tax-free weekend, right before school starts, benefits parents and students, it negatively impacts the park system. This year they’ve had to layoff several part time personnel.
Stanley Hicks knows his stuff. He told us that the buckeyes, persimmons and hedge apples were all early this year. He mentioned an interesting phenomenon about the persimmon which has a seed nearly as big as the sweet, orange, fleshy fruit. He said if you break open the seed, you will see either the shape of a fork, knife or spoon. Legend has it that if you find a knife shape inside, that forecasts a smooth, easy winter. A fork shape indicates a lot of ice. A spoon shape indicates an abundance of snow. Sad to say, he claims that they have been discovering more spoon shapes this year.
I had a wonderful day in the country. I urge you to take advantage of Missouri’s State Parks. Many are within driving distance and at this time of year, it is the perfect way to spend a fall day, especially before the snow starts falling.