Bodark trees tough as nailsby
Great Plains trees have the mystique and history of the "bois d'arc" tree. Some
call it Osage Orange, hedge, hedge apple, horse apple, mock orange or even Thorny
Maclura Pomifera - its scientific name. Cowboys just said bodark.|
areas of Arkansas, Oklahoma and eastern
Texas, the tree grows naturally, producing a wrinkled, bumpy apple that smells
like oranges. Indians prized the strong yellow wood for the making of bows as
in bow and arrow.
The thorny plant was once planted closely in rows to
grow into a thorny hedge used as fencing for livestock. The idea worked great
until grass and Russian thistles piled up in the hedge and then burned out during
the frequent prairie fires thus killing the trees.
The bodark tree gained
prominence again where on the bare prairies it was harvested for fence posts to
build the new-fangled barbed-wire
fences. A well cured bodark post can last for over 100 years unless destroyed
by prairie fire.
During the hedge-row-fence fad, the horse apples were
gathered in ricks to rot, then sliced into bits and pieces and washed in wooden
troughs to separate the seed from the pulp. When the clean seed dried it sold
for up to $45 per bushel to those planting hedgerow fences.
came to the Panhandle from the
north and east carried by settlers. Later the CCC workers planted thousands of
the plants in windbreaks to help slow the dusty winds of the Dust Bowl. As cedar-post
supplies began to dwindle the bodark and locust trees came into use.
growth of bodark in the tree rows quickly showed that thinly planted trees will
become twisted and crooked. Thickly planted rows had to grow upward to reach the
sun and thus became straighter and stronger. Depending on the annual rainfall,
a bodark tree row can be harvested for posts about every eight to ten years.
To thicken up a stand of mature bodark trees, merely use a root plow to make a
deep cut between the rows where sprouts will quickly appear and grow into trees.
The thicker the stand the straighter the trunks and limbs will grow.
not only makes good posts and dead-man-anchors, but if cut into blocks it makes
long-lasting paving or sidewalk surface. Before concrete was available many frontier
frame houses were built using bodark or cedar posts as foundations. I once remodeled
an old ranch house at Goodnight
which was believed to be more than 100 years old. The bodark stump foundation
was firm as ever with very little rot.
Lore says to throw a number of bodark
apples underneath the floors of your house to get rid of spiders and other pests.
We tried it but noticed no difference. Maybe we did not use enough. Some elders
swear it works.
I've read that bodark root bark produces a yellow dye
prized by Indians. I do know that upper trunk bark of the tree produces tannin,
used in tanning hides.
Personal experience has taught me to be prepared
if you try to drive a fence staple into a bodark post. It is hard as iron.
"It's All Trew" April 28, 2009 Column