Turns out Osage Oranges were Mastodon Food

Every november I end up collecting a few Osage oranges (hedge apples) from local trees, and have always wondered what manner of beastie disperses them in nature. Apparently it’s horses nowadays, but in the post-glacial past, it was likely Mastodons that ate the fruit and distributed the seed.
Nice PDF on Anachronistic Fruits of the US and the Creatures that dispersed them, here:

Via Botany Picture of the Day

My horses eat them. I have several osage orange trees in my pasture, and often find half-eaten fruits. I wonder if the deer eat them?


In Texas we call them bois d’arc trees. And they get huge here. The wood doesn’t rot, and the male trees (no horse apples, just two inch long spikes with venom) are used to make natural fences.

As I recal it, according to an old Stephen Jay Gould column, avocados were Glyptodont food.

Fascinating! What a great read. Thanks, Squink!

That was a fascinating article. I read the whole PDF.

My I recommend the book The Ghosts of Evolution by Connie Barlow (the same who wrote the linked article), 242 pages of evolutionary anachronisms. A few spots get a touch repetitive but I found it a fascinating read.

Whoa. I just visited Mastodon State Park a couple of days ago and learned that same factoid about mastodons and the osage orange! What are the odds??

I learned that the trees are always located behind me when I’m trying to take pictures of historic locations. Reaaaallly need to get a wide angle lense.

Wonderful! Fun to think of all those old mastodons wandering hither and yon doing the Johnny Appleseed thing. :slight_smile:

Hehe… Horse Apples - I’ve only ever understood that to mean something else…

My library has it. Thanks, Broomstick.

Downloaded by my Kindle.

One question: how do you pronounce “Osage”? Neither wikipedia nor wiktionary has a pronunciation guide.


From the article:

“Flatter than a Volkswagen Beetle, but about the same general size and weight”

Now there’s a vivid image.

Osage Orange trees make for fantastic firewood if you’ve got some dead ones nearby. They burn hot and long.

I’ve read that, in addition to yew, Native Americans would craft bows from osage. I wonder if that helped with dispersal at all.

Having frequently seen the excellent specimens at the AmericanMuseum of Natural History, I don’t think I’d call those “flatter than a Volkswagen”. They were overall smaller, but their rounded backs stood proportionally as high, I’d say.

Maybe the writer had a different species in mind than the ones I saw.

Thank you, LouiseE. Ignorance fought!

Now for my new question, related only by concerning another species of extinct North American megafauna:

Were the giant ground sloths sloth-like in their energy level? I thought the reason tree sloths could get away with being so slow was because they were out of harm’s way. Maybe none of the dire wolves wanted to pick on something the size of an SUV, but a short-faced bear could take them on.

They’re one of the best firewoods that there is, if you cut them while they’re still green. If they’re dried, you’ll dull your chainsaw in no time.

They laugh at your axe.