Range of Growth, and Soil Favorable to its Growth.—Its Attainable Height.—The Incorruptible Property of its Wood.—Color of its Wood, Uses for which Pit, and Advantages.—Its Productiveness and Famed Elasticity.—Its Foliage and Fruit Described.—States best Suited to its Thrift.—Difference of Bearing of the Male and the Female Tree.—A Fruitful Yield.
This tree is found chiefly in the rich bottom-lands of Louisiana, Texas, and New Mexico, where it reaches the height of from twenty-five to thirty-five feet. The wood, which takes a beautiful polish, and. is easily mistaken for satin-wood, is hard, tough, and very elastic, and, strange to say, is incorruptible, a rotten stick of Osage orange being never seen; though it will waste away, it will never rot. In color it is of a bright yellow, and is fit for any purpose where lumber is exposed to changes of weather, as it does not shrink nor swell on exposure to water or heat.
In a few years a plantation of Osage orange-trees would reproduce itself. It is so pregnant with suckers that, like the chestnut, the more it is cut down the more shoots it will throw out, and thus the Osage plantation will grow thicker and thicker. The Osage Indians have rendered the wood of the Osage orange famous from their skilful use of it in the manufacture of their bows.
It is a beautiful deciduous tree, and has a smooth, grayish-yellow bark, and while young has a beautiful roundish appearance; but, like youth and beauty, when old age appears it becomes wrinkled in its bark and scraggy in its branches. Its foliage is of a beautiful dark green, smooth and polished on the top and slightly seamed underneath; the leaves are about three or four inches long and as many broad. The spines that cover the branches are straight and strong, and about two inches in length.
The fruit is about the size and appearance of a large Seville orange. It consists of numerous small radiating fibres that meet and join a small ball-like centre of soft, woody fibre. The orange, when wounded, exudes a milk-like fluid that on exposure to the air turns to a white, coagulated mass, but turns black when left to dry on the hands. It is found scattered all over the country, but is at its best in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and New Mexico. There is a curious instance related by Browne, viz.: Two trees were planted by Mr. McMahon, of Philadelphia, close together; one of them bore fruit in a perfect condition, and continued to do so for some years, while the other bore only fruit whose seed was abortive. Mr. McMahon was puzzled for a time to account for this, but after mature study he came to the conclusion that they were male and female; the female bearing the perfect fruit, while the male could only produce abortive fruit. Two other trees situated about four hundred yards away showed the same result.
At Beaver Dam, in Virginia, a female tree of this species yielded fruit to the number of one hundred and fifty, many of which weighed eighteen or nineteen ounces each.
From the wood of the Osage orange is obtained a yellow dye; the inner bark is very fine and white, and might be manufactured into fine linen. The chief use of the tree is for hedges. It has been tested as a food for silk-worms, but with poor success, most of the worms dying, and those that lived were weak and puny.