The bois d’arc tree sports hard wood and large, inedible fruit.
You know there’s a bois d’arc tree nearby when you see its electric-green, baseball-sized fruit littering the ground.
In a wooded area with other trees, it may take a moment to spot the bois d’arc (pronounced bo-dark; also called horse apple or Osage orange). Look for orange-brown, vertically furrowed bark. Leaves are teardrop-shaped, 3 to 5 inches long, tapering to a slender point and alternating on the stem. Leaf edges are smooth; upper surfaces shiny. Young bois d’arc branches are armed with thorns. A mature tree may be 30 to 40 feet tall with a thick trunk and a dense, spreading crown.
Maclura pomifera is a dioecious species, with male and female flowers on separate trees. Only females bear the lumpy, inedible fruit, the most noticeable but least useful part of this unusual Texas tree.
Bois d’arc is French for “wood of the bow.” Long before European explorers came around, Osage Indians knew this tree made the best bows. The wood is hard but flexible, largely unaffected by changes in humidity. Historians report that a well-crafted bow of bois d’arc wood was worth a horse in trade. As white settlers moved in, the same qualities made the wood ideal for wagon-wheel rims.
Settlers also found that a row of these thorny trees made an effective living fence. This gave rise to another common name, hedge apple. As pioneers moved westward, they planted bois d’arc across the American Midwest. Remnant hedges still mark the edges of old homesteads, providing cover and nesting sites for birds and wildlife. Others were replaced with barbed wire, and the trees carved up for fence posts.
Bois d’arc still grows wild in its home range of north-central Texas and the Red River basin. The state champion, 62 feet tall with an 88-foot canopy, is in Bowie County. With its thorns and messy fruit (it leaks sticky sap when damaged), the species isn’t popular nowadays as a landscape tree.
“It is a very interesting and cool tree with beautiful wood,” says Kyle Vyers, a forester for the City of Arlington. “While beneficial to an environment, I do not know of anyone that plants one on purpose.”
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