September 4, 2012 9:38:34 AM
In the deep ditches beside the road are several large green balls. They look like bowling balls in a gutter lane of a bowling alley.
The green ball is called an Osage orange, hedge apple or, more commonly in the Prairie, a horse apple. When the black cherry tree leaves turn red, when hurricanes threaten in the Gulf and as community talk centers around high school and college football, the 6-inch horse apples fall.
The horse apple is not fit for human consumption but it is ever so great for decorating. It has a dimpled skin like a basketball and an attractive lime color.
Folklore says that the horse apple repels insects, cockroaches, spiders and even fleas. It is said that you can put one under your bed and it will last two to three months in air conditioning. A University of Pennsylvania study backed up the lore -- the part about the insects, not the air conditioning. It is said the horse apple is as effective as any synthetic insecticide.
I'm wondering if I might sell horse apples as organic insect repellents at the farmers' market. It's a thought. We must have a million lying around.
Sam asked if the ball was a fruit or a seed so I checked it out. The ball is a fruit. In June there is a small pale green flower. I can't say that I've ever noticed the flower, but the flower turns into the fruit and the fruit falls to the ground. I've actually heard them fall while sitting on the porch. I wonder if I'd get knocked out if I happened to be passing under the tree at that very moment.
Few critters will eat the fruit except for the squirrel. Squirrels enjoy eating the complete horse apple, the skin, meat, seed and all.
It is said that horse apples can float but I haven't tested that yet.
Horses should not eat the horse apple. It is not poisonous but can become lodged in the horse's throat. The trees were once grown as a natural barrier for livestock, as the tree has thorns. This was before barbed wire.
The tree goes by a number of names -- bodock, or bodark, or bois d'arc if you're French. The wood is bright orange or yellow; it's strong, hard and flexible. It polishes well and is made into musical instruments, writing pens and many things wooden. Bodock was once used to make primitive archery bows.
I happen to be the proud owner of a bodock spoon made by wood carver George Dyson of Columbus. I hang it in my kitchen and consider it a treasure.
The bodock wood burns hot and is said to have as high a BTU as burning coal. The wood will pop and spark like fireworks. You must use a screen or close the stove doors to protect the carpet. In the coming Prairie winter, the house will be toasty warm with burning bodock in the wood stove.
Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.