Don’t Fence Me In!

Hedge apples are the fruit of the Osage Orange tree, but unfortunately they aren't very tasty.  Too bad, because they are everywhere in the early fall in the lower Midwest.

Hedge apples are the fruit of the Osage Orange tree, but unfortunately they aren't aren't edible. Too bad, because they seem to be everywhere in early fall in the Midwest.

Devon, England, has some of the most ancient and renowned hedgerows in the world. I haven’t been there in person, but Paula of Locks Park Farm in Devon (link below) took her readers on a virtual tour of the hedgerows on her farm.  You could almost hear the song thrush singing in the trees as we “walked” along the path.  It was a sunny day after weeks of rainy weather in the Devon countryside.  In her photographs, the rose hips, crab apples and elderberries are explosions of color among the green leaves.  Somewhere dormouse nests (Alice in Wonderland!) are hidden in the hedges.

I told her we have “old” hedges here, too — not a thousand or more years old, of course.  One hundred and fifty years old is an ancient hedgerow here in the Midwest.  Our hedgerows consist mostly of Osage Orange trees, Maclura pomifera, which were planted densely together to confine cattle in the days before barbed wire.  Because these trees are so durable, they still mark the pastures, even though fencing is now used.  Paula describes her county’s hedgerows as part of a patchwork field system and imagines ours as vast fields, which in the Midwest is often true.  There’s a Cole Porter song that begins “Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above, don’t fence me in.”  Everyone from Bing Crosby to ABBA has sung it.  (Videos below.)

Osage Orange thorns make a menancing hedge.

Osage Orange thorns make a menacing hedge.

Osage Orange wood is very dense and prized for bows, tool handles and other uses.  It’s sometimes called ironwood, because it’s so hard to cut. Other plants, including varieties of dogwood shrubs and wildflowers such as goldenrod and sunflower, grow among the Osage Orange trees, providing homes for wildlife.  The trees were named for the Osage Indians of the area, for the color of the wood and for the fruit, called hedge apples, which are about the size of a large orange.  They aren’t toxic, but they’re not a good food source, either.

Hedge apple "harvest" on the curb.

Hedge apple "harvest" in my neighborhood. Hedge apple cider, anyone?

Extinct animals such as the giant ground sloth and the mammoth from 10, 000 years and longer ago may have eaten hedge apples, but now only squirrels seem to find any part of them nutritious.  They tear apart the apple to get at the seeds, leaving a mess.  A few other animals, such as horses and cattle, will eat the fruit, but it’s not very good for them.  

In my neighborhood, Osage Orange trees grow in a wild area at the edge of the landscaped areas, and the hedge apples fall on the street and are smashed by passing cars.  To learn more click on all about the osage orange tree.

To read Paula’s beautiful post and see the gorgeous photos of the Devon hedgerows click on “our amazing hedges.”  A video of Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters singing “Don’t Fence Me In” is below the photograph of a partial hedgerow in my neighborhood. Beneath Bing Crosby is a video of ABBA singing “Don’t Fence Me In” on the Dick Cavett Show.

Sunflowers, goldenrod, dogwoods and other plants grow in the hedgerow.
Sunflowers, goldenrod, dogwoods and other plants grow in the remnants of a hedgerow in my neighborhood.
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3 Comments

Filed under Animals, Biology, Bird-watching, Environment, Europe, Gardening, History, Humor, Kansas, Life, Natural History, Nature, Personal, Photography, Random, Science, Travel, Uncategorized

3 responses to “Don’t Fence Me In!

  1. What a wonderful site you have. Growing up in western Kansas, my mother always went on a search for hedgeapples. She placed these in the basement of our home to keep the crickets away.
    It must have worked as she did it each year we lived there.

    Thanks again. Beautiful pictures. Jean

  2. Firstly thank you so much Cathy for both your words and link to our farm’s hedges. Secondly, what an oh-so-interesting post on your hedges; I read avidly and greedily! I feel I’m learning so much, and, as another over-the-pond virtual friend said ‘the internet and blogs have done more for international relations and friendships than any government, ever!’ I agree.
    The thorns on your osage orange are used in a similar way to our blackthorn. Blackthorn thorns also have the added ‘sting’ of being slightly toxic too.
    If any of your readers want to find out more about English hedgerows follow this link to http://www.hedgelink.org.uk or click on ‘hedges’ in my tags column.

  3. Catherine Sherman

    Hi, Jlindsay. I’m happy you enjoyed my blog. I’m going to gather a few hedge apples (before they’re all gone) and put them in my basement, too. I hadn’t heard that advice before.

    Thanks, Paula, for inspiring me to look more closely at the world around me, especially the humble parts I took for granted. It’s great seeing the beautiful world beyond mine, too, in your blog.
    Your hedge post is bait for people to visit mine.

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