Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie
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  • 203 Osage Orange Trees

    Joe Wheeler at left (Midewin Archeologist) holds cutting tool invented by Arthur Schumacher for keeping Osage Orange trees hedge height. Son Robert Schumacher looks on.(right)

    Robert recalls Osage Orange hedges.

    The large trees reaching over the road from each side are Osage orange (Maclura pomifera), with their softball sized fruit called “hedge apples”. The French-Canadian trappers called them “Bodark” trees, from "bois d'arc" or “bow wood” which was what the trees were widely used for by Native Americans. These trees, native to Arkansas, Oklahoma and North Texas, were imported to Illinois as seedlings in large numbers in the 1850s. They were planted close together and with their intertwining branches provided a living, dense, thorny, hedge fence. They were touted to be “horse high, bull-strong and hog tight.” They were a godsend to farmers on the tree-poor prairies.

    Alvin Schumacher remembers that one of the jobs on the farm was trimming the thorny trees each year with a tool his father fashioned. Once the hedges are no longer maintained, they grow into full-size trees and that is what you see on either side of the road. The dense, rot-resistant wood was also used for fuel, fence posts, and tools. Be careful! They still bear the thorns that made them so effective as fencing!

    Turn right (south) at sign #3 and walk about 50 feet to the arrow. There turn right (west) again. Continue to sign #4.