Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Natural Histories: osage orange






This time of the year, the hedge apples are falling from the tree that grows in front of the Miller Education Building at Ijams Nature Center. It's located on the homesite where H.P. and Alice Ijams lived and raised four daughters and I suspect that either H.P. or Alice planted the tree. 

Every time I pick up a hedge apple, I am reminded of my first book and one of the stories it contained. 

As UT Press writes, Natural Histories "illuminates in surprising ways the complicated and often vexed relationships between humans and their neighbors in the natural world."

Perhaps the most vexing encounter in the book between humans and the natural world occurred when the boys in gray engaged a simple hedge planted due west of the Harpeth River n Middle Tennessee.

On November 30, 1864—153 years ago this month—the horrific Battle of Franklin was fought south of Nashville. An osage orange hedge row played a key role in the outcome stopping one division of the advancing Southern army "dead" in their tracks. When the smoke cleared, the Confederate Army of Tennessee had lost almost 7,000 men in just five hours. (The Union army's dead and wounded numbered significantly less: only 2,326.) Here's a snippet from my book:

"The almost forgotten Battle of Franklin was a death knell. “This is where the Old South died,” says activist Robert Hicks, “and we were reborn as a nation.”

I visited the site on this date in 2004. It was a rainy day much like today. Here's another passage from the book:

"Leaving Lewisburg Pike, I walked along the rain soaked streets and soon found the two aged osage orange trees still growing in the vicinity of the railroad line. Historian Cartwright had told me about the old trees just an hour before. Both were perhaps descendants of the hedgerow that stopped Loring and, as such, were living monuments. It was a circuitous chain of events that moved osage orange from its native Red River home to this historic point of all out chaos; turn back the clock and replay the era, day by day, and it would not have unfolded in exactly the same way. I paused just long enough to admire the towering presence of the elderly trees; and as the rain began to fall heavy once again, I zipped up my coat, turned and walked away."

Excerpts from my book Natural Histories published by the University of Tennessee Press.


The fruit of an osage orange looks like a green brain
and probably tastes like one too,
although, I must admit, I've sampled neither.

1 comment:

Marie said...

This is very interesting! I didn't know about the role it played in the Battle of Franklin! The first timne I ever saw them lying on the ground beneath a tree I was fascinated. It would be interesting to know if it's at all edible. Weren't the branches used by the Indians for bows and arrows?