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.
In certain 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.
Bodark first 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.
The 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.
Bodark 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
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