Recognize a Tree

Durham naturalists and tree lovers of all ages are invited to submit their nominations for significant trees in Durham County now through October 1, 2018 for this year’s competition.

Durham’s Finest Trees program recognizes significant trees in Durham County, promotes discovery and ability to identify trees, and helps preserve the best examples of specific tree species, particularly native and those trees well adapted to Durham County. The program also promotes awareness of trees in our community and hopes to catalog fine examples of magnificent specimens of trees due to their size, setting, historical importance, or significant feature.

Trees on private or public property can be nominated in each of the three categories: largest, historical or meritorious. Preference will be given to native North Carolina tree species. Non-native trees may be considered if they are of a species, subspecies, variety or cultivar proven to be relatively long-lived and well adapted to North Carolina.

Winning trees nominated in 2018 will be recognized in the early part of 2019 around the time of Durham’s Arbor Day. Please read the official rules before submitting a nomination.

Durham’s Finest Trees awarded recognition to seven trees last spring as part of the Trees Over Durham Forum on April 24, 2017 held at the Durham Arts Council1. On March 6, 2016, four Durham trees (nominated in the 2015, the first year of the Durham’s Finest Tree program) located across the city and county were recognized for their size and significance during Durham’s Arbor Day ceremony at the Museum of Life and Science.2

References

1. May 18, 2017 http://durhamcouncilofgardenclubs.blogspot.com/2017/05/2016-durhams-finest-trees-winners.html & August 10, 2017 https://durhammastergardeners.wordpress.com

2. “Four win in Durham’s Finest Trees contest” The Herald Sun-The Durham Herald, Durham, North Carolina Sunday, August 7, 2016 Page 6 (correction published on August 8, 2016)

Biography of Durham’s Finest Tree* No. 12: Lowes Grove Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea)

by Wendy Diaz, EMGV

In 2017, Durham County Citizens nominated three large trees for the Durham’s Finest Tree program and they were evaluated in the fall of 2017. The 2017 winners have yet to be announced but one of the nominations is an impressive Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea)1 located at the south end of the Lowes Grove Middle School property in Southern Durham.

Description

The Lowes Grove Scarlet Oak is very tall at a height of 101 feet. Its average canopy is 92 feet and its trunk circumference is 165 inches. The Lowes Grove Scarlet Oak is nearly as tall and as large as the nearby state champion found in Chatham County (located at the Veterans Memorial in Siler City) with a height of 114 feet, a crown spread of 64 feet and a circumference of 175 inches2. The Lowes Grove Scarlet Oak is fairly large for the species that typically grows between 50 and 80 feet with a rounded, open-shaped habit3. The Lowes Grove students affectionately call the stately Scarlet Oak, Abraham, which towers over the football field and its light pole near a small tributary of the Northeast Creek4.

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Rounded, open-shaped habit of mature Lowes Grove Scarlet Oak. Photo taken by Wendy Diaz on October 24, 2017 

 

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Broad, round canopy of Lowes Grove Scarlet Oak. Photo taken by Wendy Diaz on November 10, 2017

 

Species Description

The Scarlet Oak is native to eastern North America. It prefers dry to medium well-drained soils that are acidic and sandy1. This deciduous tree also likes full sun and grows rapidly. It is monoecious with neither the male nor the female flowers being showy. The fruit is a small acorn about half- to one-inch long. The acorns are eaten by woodpeckers, blue jays, small mammals, wild turkey and white-tailed deer3. The tree derives its common name from the reddish color of the wood not for its fall foliage. The Scarlet Oak bark is grey and furrowed. The glossy leaves are green in the summer turning scarlet in the fall. The leaves are deeply cut with bristle-tipped, pointed lobes and typically are three to six inches long. The Scarlet Oak is a low maintenance tree and makes a good shade tree with excellent fall color if it has sufficient space to grow.

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Height measurement taken of Lowes Grove Scarlet Oak in late fall. Photo taken by Wendy Diaz on December 7, 2017 

The Scarlet Oak can be confused with other similar oaks such as the Northern Red Oak and the Southern Red Oak. Its correct identification can be confirmed by comparing their leaves. Red oaks have pointed lobes but the Scarlet Oak leaf typically has five to seven deep lobes and its leaf shape is in between a Northern Red Oak and a Southern Red Oak; its leaf is not as broad as the Northern Red Oak and is not as deeply lobed as the Southern Red Oak which has a more pronounced main lobe. In addition, the grey bark of the Scarlet Oak is not as deeply furrowed as the Northern Red Oak bark.

 

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Deeply pointed lobes of the glossy green leaves of the Lowes Grove Scarlet Oak. Photo taken by Wendy Diaz on October 24, 2017
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Grey and lightly furrowed bark of the Lowes Grove Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea). Photo taken by Wendy Diaz on November 10, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Local History

The area around the intersection of Highway 54 and Alston Avenue was the location of the Lowes Grove rural community dating back to the 1880’s.  The northeast corner was a landmark of innovative education since 1896 when a small log and frame structure was built. The name ‘grove’ came to be when the area residents organized informal church services in a farm building near a grove of trees in 1889. The Little Red School house was rebuilt in 1903 (relocated to the north side of the current Lowes Grove Middle School property). The old school facility was expanded and a larger building was built in 1910. The old Lowes Grove School was one of two schools in the state to receive a farm life grant and the campus was expanded with a demonstration farm in 1913 and in 1922 when the student population was 200 it underwent extensive renovations and three additional buildings were built and completed by 1925 and these four buildings were Durham County’s first all-brick school complex. The old campus was closed in 1989 but at the time the Little Red School house was one of the oldest continually operated buildings in North Carolina. The Lowes Grove area was also the site of the first credit union in the South, which was formed to serve local farmers in 1915.

Most of the buildings for the old school were demolished in 2006 except for one located to the north of the new South Durham Public Library located on the east side of Alston Avenue. Scarlet Oaks are known to have a life span of about 80 years, so it probably did not exist when the the original Lowes Grove school buildings were built but it certainly existed during most of the old rural school’s operation and continues to stand guard next to the new Lowes Grove Middle School today.

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The Lowes Grove sports field lined with trees such as the Scarlet Oak provides the perfect habitat for their resident red-tailed hawk. Canopy of Lowes Grove Scarlet Oak on the left of the photo. Photo taken by Wendy Diaz October 24, 2017
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Lowes Grove Scarlet Oak. Photo taken by Wendy Diaz on November 26, 2017

References:

  1. http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=280714&isprofile=1&basic=scarlet%20oak
  2. http://ncforestservice.gov/Urban/big_species_results.asp
  3. https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/trees/quercus-coccinea/
  4. http://www.northeastcreek.org/wordpress/
  5. http://www.opendurham.org/buildings/lowes-grove-school
  6. May 18, 2017http://durhamcouncilofgardenclubs.blogspot.com/2017/05 & August 10, 2017 https://durhammastergardeners.wordpress.com
  7. Four win in Durham’s Finest Trees contest” The Herald Sun-The Durham Herald, Durham, North Carolina Sunday, August 7, 2016 Page 6 (correction published on August 8, 2016)

 

Biography of Durham’s Finest Tree* No. 9: Main Street East White Ash (Fraxinus Americana)

The 2016 Durham’s Finest Tree nominations were evaluated in the fall of 2016. The winners were announced at the Trees Over Durham Forum on April 24th, 2017 in the Durham Arts Center. Of the sixteen trees nominated, seven met the criteria of a fine example of a tree species due to their size, historical importance or other meritorious significance.

The White Ash (Fraxinus Americana) located in front of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church at 403 East Main Street and across the street from the newly completed Durham County Human Services Complex in the Downtown East neighborhood won in the Historical Category.

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Main Street East White Ash  Photo taken by Wendy Diaz on October 29 2016

Main Street East White Ash Description    

The Main Street East White Ash is only 54 feet high but has a broad trunk with a circumference of 146 inches and a canopy spread of 65 feet.  There is a pronounced curve in its trunk and its gray bark has the characteristic diamond-shaped ridges of mature White Ash trees.  As a city street tree without competition and only having to survive stresses of the urban rather than forest environment, it has developed a very interesting shape due to the curved upper branches that foresters refer to as ‘wolfy’.  This term is defined as a tree ‘which occupies more space in the forest than its value justifies’ and is usually older and branchier than other trees3.  The tree also is fairly large for its urban environment but its significance is not due to its size as it does not match the North Carolina Champion Tree height of over 100 feet4 or even 2015 Durham’s Finest Trees winning tree No. 3 of the same species of about 90 feet height5; nevertheless it is exceptional for its estimated age and association and proximity to a Durham Historical Landmark Church.

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Curve in Main Street East White Ash trunk.  Photo taken by Wendy Diaz on October 29, 2016
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Gray bark and pronounced ridges of White Ash trunk.
Photo taken by Wendy Diaz on October 29, 2016
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Wolfy’ shape of Main Street East White Ash refers to its very curved limbs. Photo taken by Wendy Diaz on October 29, 2016
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Photos taken by Wendy Diaz on October 29, 2016

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A Serious Threat to Ash Trees**

This grand old occupant of downtown Durham is in danger of the southerly migration of the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) from northern states.  The tiny iridescent green EAB, is a native of Asia, and was first discovered in southeastern Michigan in 2002.  It has taken just over a decade to reach North Carolina in 2013 by way of Virginia6.  Typically, the EAB will kill an ash tree within 3 to 5 years after the tree is infested3.  It has already killed almost every ash tree species in Ontario and Quebec, Canada and is present in most states east of the Mississippi River7.  Female EABs lay eggs in bark crevasses and when the tiny larvae hatch they chew through the outer bark and then the inner bark.  The EAB bores into the sapwood and feeds on this tissue under the bark resulting in the tree loosing its ability to transfer food and water between the roots and leaves7.  The feeding larvae disrupt the transport systems of the tree by creating winding tunnels (galleries) in the sapwood7.  In late spring, the EAB begins to emerge from the ash wood as a mature beetle and will feed on the leaves and reproduce.  To track the pest, The City of Durham is placing sticky traps at known stands of ash8.  These traps mimic the attractive scent that the distressed ash trees emit that is irresistible to the EAB.  If the presence of EAB is confirmed then the City of Durham is eligible to receive parasitoid wasps from the N.C Forest Service, which will eat the EAB larvae and slow the spread of EAB.  In 2014, the pest was found in Durham County but has not been trapped within the city limits, yet8. It was announced on September 10, 2015 that the entire state was under quarantine for the emerald ash borer.

The Main Street East White Ash may well become a rarity in our county, if it survives.  It is no longer recommended that ash trees be planted as shade or street trees in our North American cities.  Unlike in the Northeast, Ash trees were rarely planted as street trees in Durham and it is estimated that only six per cent of Durham trees are ash and most are located in floodplains and along streams8.  Please protect the Main Street East White Ash and our existing ash trees by remembering to only use local firewood.  This will prevent unintentional transport of these pests to other stands and please report dying ash trees (initially the top of crown thins and partially dies) to the North Carolina Forest Service: http://www.ncforestservice.gov/forest_health/fh_eabfaq.htm.

Local History

The original St. Philips Episcopal Church was a wood structure built in 1880 and in 1906 this structure was moved to the side of the new Gothic Revival church completed in 1908, which was designed by Ralph Adams Cram, the same architect who designed the St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York City1. St. Philips Episcopal Church is the oldest remaining church in downtown Durham1 and the church stands at its original location and is a Durham historical landmark2. A young tree resembling the Main Street East Ash Tree can be seen at the front of the church in an old photograph dated to the early 20th century. This uniquely shaped old tree could date back to the completion of the church in 1908, which gives it an age of 110 years old! This Durham centenarian witnessed the transformation of this corner of downtown Durham from a residential to commercial center and is an asset to the urban environment it currently inhabits. It would be a loss for the downtown Durham streetscape if it were a victim of the Emerald Ash Borer.

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Immature Main Street East White Ash in foreground, circa early 20th century (photo courtesy of Durham Public Library)1
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Immature Main Street East White Ash tree visible along the left side of the postcard. (Postcard downloaded from the Open Durham website1)

References:

  1. http://www.opendurham.org/buildings/st-philips-episcopal
  2. http://museumofdurhamhistory.org/beneathourfeet/landmarks
  3. http://archive.lib.msu.edu/DMC/Ag.%20Ext.%202007-Chelsie/PDF/e1238.pdf
  4. http://ncforestservice.gov/Urban/big_species_results.asp
  5. https://durhammastergardeners.wordpress.com/2016/05/20/biography-of-durhams-finest-tree-no-3-white-ash-fraxinus-americana/#comments
  6. http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=282936&isprofile=1&basic=White%20Ash
  7. Invasive Exotic Insects Threatening Our Native ForestsEmerald Ash Borer in North Carolina by Catherine Bollinger  North Carolina Botanical Garden Conservation Gardener Magazine; Spring & Summer 2016
  8. Durham Now Monitoring for New Invasive Tree Pest, by Alex Johnson, Urban Forestry Manager, General Services Department, City of Durham. Herald-Sun Newspaper, Sunday, May 8, 2016
  9. May 18, 2017 http://durhamcouncilofgardenclubs.blogspot.com/2017/05 & August 10, 2017 https://durhammastergardeners.wordpress.com
  10. Four win in Durham’s Finest Trees contest” The Herald Sun-The Durham Herald, Durham, North Carolina Sunday, August 7, 2016 Page 6 (correction published on August 8, 2016)

* Durham’s Finest Trees program recognizes significant trees in Durham County, promotes discovery and ability to identify trees, and helps preserve the best examples of specific tree species, particularly native and those trees well adapted to Durham County. The program also promotes awareness of trees in our community and hopes to catalog fine examples of magnificent specimens of trees due to their size, setting, historical importance, or significant feature.

Durham naturalists and tree lovers of all ages are invited to submit their nominations for significant trees in Durham County now through October 1, 2018 for this year’s competition. The nomination period for 2017 is now closed. Trees on private or public property can be nominated in each of the three categories: largest, historical, or meritorious. Preference will be given to native North Carolina tree species. Non-native trees may be considered if they are of a species, subspecies, variety or cultivar proven to be relatively long-lived and well adapted to North Carolina. Winning trees nominated in 2017 will be recognized on Durham’s Arbor Day in 2018. Please read the official rules before submitting a nomination.

Durham’s Finest Trees awarded recognition to seven trees last spring as part of the Trees Over Durham Forum on April 24, 2017 held at the Durham Arts Council9. On March 6, 2016, four Durham trees (nominated in the 2015, the first year of the Durham’s Finest Tree program) located across the city and county were recognized for their size and significance during Durham’s Arbor Day ceremony at the Museum of Life and Science.10

** A version of this text first appeared in the Master Gardener blog post of May 20, 2016 and is included here because of this serious threat to the White Ash species.

Biography of Durham’s Finest Tree* No. 8: Virginia Avenue Loblolly Pine

The 2016 Durham’s Finest Tree nominations were evaluated in the fall of 2016.  The winners were announced at the Trees Over Durham Forum on April 24th, 2017 in the Durham Arts Center.  Of the sixteen trees nominated last year, seven met the criteria of a fine example of a tree species due to their size, historical importance or other meritorious significance.

The Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda) near the southeast corner of Virginia Avenue and Club Boulevard in the Old West Durham Neighborhood of Durham1 won in the Large Category.  The Loblolly Pine has a low tolerance to shade and this pine tree developed a very large canopy in its open urban environment.

 

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Virginia Avenue Loblolly Pine by Wendy Diaz, October 29, 2016

 

Virginia Avenue Loblolly Pine Description   

The Virginia Avenue Loblolly Pine is fairly tall with a circumference of 103 inches.  It is 99 feet in height with a canopy spread of 52 feet.  This tree has had little competition and has grown a large canopy with a crown spread several feet wider than the State Champion, though it is not as tall as the North Carolina Champion Tree of the same species located in Bertie County northeastern North Carolina (height of 175 feet, trunk circumference of 170 inches and crown spread of 41 feet)2.

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Looking north along Virginia Avenue at the Loblolly Pine.  Photo taken by Wendy Diaz October 29, 2016
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The very large crown spread of 52 feet of the Virginia Avenue Loblolly Pine.
Photo taken by Wendy Diaz on October 29, 2016

Species Description

The species Pinus taeda is native to southeastern United States ranging from southern New Jersey to Florida and west to eastern Texas3.  The species prefers medium to wet, poorly drained acidic soils and full sun. It is a fast growing, medium to tall growing conifer that is excurent4 (forms undivided straight trunk) and can grow to over 100 feet in height and nearly 3 feet in diameter but typically grows from 40 to 90 feet in height and 20 to 40 feet spread. The green leaves or needles are in fascicles of 3 and up to 10 inches long. Male and female cones are present on the tree, however, only the male cones are yellow and produce pollen every spring. The female cones (3 to 6 inches long) turn green after pollination and eventually turn brown and release seeds when they mature.

The long needles and open canopy of the Loblolly Pine make this tree a very attractive pine. The grey-brown scaly bark develops furrows with age3. The common name of Loblolly means mudhole and refers to the swampy areas where the tree often grows in the wild.3 The Loblolly Pine is susceptible to the southern pine beetle and the pine engraver beetle. This species is the most commercially important tree species in the southeastern United States. Lumber, pulp for paper and cardboard, and biomass for heat energy and biofuels are all produced from its harvested timber4. The Loblolly stem bark is resistant to decomposition by soil and root-inhabiting fungi and as a result makes good pine bark mulch5. Living mature Loblolly trees also provide habitat to endangered ‘keystone’ species, the red-cockaded woodpecker6.

 

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Furrowed scaley grey-brown bark of the Loblolly Pine. Photo taken by Wendy Diaz October 29, 2016

Local History

In the last decade of the 19th Century, the Dukes and George W. Watts expanded their businesses into the textile industry.   Benjamin N. Duke hired William Allen Erwin to manage a new textile mill in 1892 to ‘manufacture muslin for tobacco bags’. Erwin Cotton Mills was built near Hillsborough Road and 9th Street. The modest residential houses built to the north encompassing The Old West Durham neighborhood was largely developed for mill workers between the late 1890’s and 19131.

Although the Virginia Avenue Loblolly Pine is very tall and large, the species is fast growing and probably was planted after the streets of Old West Durham were constructed as part of the Erwin Cotton Mills development in the early 20th century. The annual yellow menace (pine pollen) in April is a small price to pay for this majestic pine tree that provides shade and other benefits to this urban environment.

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Close up of numerous male cones (produces pollen), which will produce pollen in the spring, on the Virginia Avenue Loblolly Pine. Photo taken by Wendy Diaz on October 29, 2016

References:

  1. http://www.opendurham.org/category/neighborhood/Old-West-Durham#desc
  2. http://ncforestservice.gov/Urban/tree_detail.asp?Tree_ID=146
  3. http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=285006&isprofile=1&basic=loblolly%20pine
  4. http://www.treeimprovement.org/public/about/species-interest/loblolly-pine/loblolly-pine
  5. https://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/misc/ah_713.pdf
  6. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/red-cockaded_woodpecker/lifehistory; https://www.fws.gov/rcwrecovery/rcw.html
  7. May 18, 2017 http://durhamcouncilofgardenclubs.blogspot.com/2017/05 & August 10, 2017 https://durhammastergardeners.wordpress.com
  8. Four win in Durham’s Finest Trees contest” The Herald Sun-The Durham Herald, Durham, North Carolina Sunday, August 7, 2016 Page 6 (correction published on August 8, 2016)

* Durham’s Finest Trees program recognizes significant trees in Durham County, promotes discovery and ability to identify trees, and helps preserve the best examples of specific tree species, particularly native and those trees well adapted to Durham County. The program also promotes awareness of trees in our community and hopes to catalog fine examples of magnificent specimens of trees due to their size, setting, historical importance, or significant feature.

Durham naturalists and tree lovers of all ages are invited to submit their nominations for significant trees in Durham County now through October 1, 2017. Trees on private or public property can be nominated in each of the three categories: largest, historical, or meritorious. Preference will be given to native North Carolina tree species. Non-native trees may be considered if they are of a species, subspecies, variety or cultivar proven to be relatively long-lived and well adapted to North Carolina. Winning trees nominated in 2017 will be recognized on Durham’s Arbor Day in 2018. Please read the official rules before submitting a nomination.

Durham’s Finest Trees awarded recognition to seven trees in the spring as part of the Trees Over Durham Forum on April 24, 2017 held at the Durham Arts Council7. On March 6, 2016, four Durham trees (nominated in the 2015, the first year of the Durham’s Finest Tree program) located across the city and county were recognized for their size and significance during Durham’s Arbor Day ceremony at the Museum of Life and Science.8

Biography of Durham’s Finest Tree* No. 7: Stagville Plantation Osage Orange Tree

The 2016 Durham’s Finest Tree nominations were evaluated in the fall of 2016. The winners were announced at the Trees Over Durham Forum on April 24th, 2017 in the Durham Arts Center. Of the sixteen trees nominated last year, seven met the criteria of a fine example of a tree species due to their size, historical importance or other meritorious significance. Behind the Bennehan house and the kitchen garden traversing along the back of the house lot are several Osage Orange Trees at the Stagville Plantation in North Durham County. The Osage Orange Tree, Maclura pomifera closest to the gravel pathway leading to the visitor center is the largest of this row of trees and won in the Historical Category. Apart from the plantation home, barns and slave dwellings, most of the early agricultural landscape does not exist as forests have replaced fields, however, a few remnants of this past era still exist: the old road bed to the Bennehan House and these ‘numerous Osage Orange Trees and other historical plantings’.1

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Stagville Osage Orange tree located behind the kitchen garden and Bennehan House on
the historic Stagville Plantation Photo by Wendy Diaz September 16, 2016 

Stagville Osage Orange Description

The Stagville Osage Orange tree has four trunks and a single trunk circumference of 45 inches. It is approximately 70 feet** in height with a canopy spread of 50 feet. This tree may be as tall as the State Champion and is uncommon in Durham County, though it is not as large as the North Carolina Champion Tree of the same species located near Scotland Neck in Halifax County (height of 68 feet, trunk circumference of 216 inches and crown spread of 70 feet)2.

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Four trunks of the Stagville Osage Orange Tree
Photo taken by Wendy Diaz on September 16, 2016
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Photo taken by Wendy Diaz on October 29, 2016

Species Description

The species Maclura pomifera is native to river valleys and rich bottomlands of southwestern Arkansas, Southeastern Oklahoma and Texas3. This area overlaps part of the ancestral range of the Native American Osage Indian tribe, hence the common name of Osage Orange. ‘Orange’ is attributed to the orange-colored mature bark, wood and exposed roots. The texture of the fruit also resembles oranges as does the aroma from the fruit after it is ripe5. Other common names for the species are Hedge-Apple (referring to the tree fruit) and Bodark4 (anglicized word for ‘bois d’arc’ given by French trappers for wood-of-the-bow) and monkey brain6 (fruit texture).

Meriwether Lewis procured cuttings from Pierre Chouteau’s garden in Missouri and he sent them to President Jefferson before his expedition with William Clark. In 1807, he collected seeds from these plants and brought them to Washington and Philadelphia sparking national and worldwide interest. As a result, the Osage Orange became the most commonly planted plant in America by mid-century.

The Osage Orange was planted in a variety of environments and naturalized in many areas, especially east of the Mississippi River. It was also commonly planted in close rows due to the scarcity of fencing materials in the Midwest as a barrier to keep livestock from grazing in fields because of its sharp thorns, wood strength and dense foliage. Based on historical reports, about 60,000 miles of Osage Orange hedging was planted in 18681. The planting of Osage Orange as hedgerows declined with the invention and use of barbwire in the 1870’s3. It was also planted along fences to provide a windbreak and wildlife shelter4. Native Americans used its heavy strong wood for making bows and tomahawks and its roots for dye. The wood was also used to make wagon wheels, fence posts, railroad ties and interior woodwork. Yellow dye can be made from boiling chips of wood in water1. Interestingly, a shortage of dye supplies during World War I resulted in the wood being used as a source of dye to make khaki-colored Army uniforms6.

The Osage Orange is deciduous and dioecious (plants are either male or female) and is a member of the Mulberry or Fig Family (Moraceae). It generally grows to 50 to 60 feet in height. It is tolerant of drought, clay soil and air pollution and easily grown in full sun to part shade. Leaves turn yellow in the fall and the bark becomes deeply furrowed with age. The tree forms suckers or growth from the tree roots and the new shoots have thorns. Its distinguishing features are dark-green shiny leaves, milkly sap, yellow-orange fibrous bark and grapefruit-sized fruit.

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Yellowish-green fruit and shiny green leaves of Osage Orange tree. Photo taken by Wendy Diaz September 16, 2106

The distinctive inedible large fruit forms on female trees only, matures in September and grows to about 3 to 5 inches in diameter. The yellowish-green globose-shaped fruit is actually a dense cluster of hundreds of small fruits (multiple fruit) or drupes resulting in a texture that resembles a brain.

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Brain-like texture of Osage Orange fruit. Photo taken by Wendy Diaz on September 16, 2016 

Local History

Historic Stagville is a State Historic Site and was at the center of one of the largest plantations in Antebellum/pre-Civil War North Carolina. By 1860, approximately 900 slaves worked the land on almost 30,000 acres7. The Osage Orange trees behind the original Bennehan House were planted only about 40 years ago for historical interpretative reasons. These trees represent the original Osage Orange trees that were planted on the Bennehan-Cameron lands. In the mid-1800’s it was common for wealthy families like the Bennehan-Cameron family to actively plant non-native species for aesthetic and utilitarian purposes (hedgerow behind the house would have provided a barrier to wild animals and plantation livestock). The Historical Site planted these trees to also depict the important role the Osage Orange played in the history of the United States. The planting is also an example of often overlooked practice of agriculturally-focused plantation owners to experiment growing foreign crops, flowers and trees in order to provide a better appearance around the plantation home and to increase the planter’s resources1.

The Osage Orange is not as common or as important as it once was to the development of the agrarian economy in Durham County or to the early United States but it is worth recognizing the historical significance of the tree to our early expansion and to the ancient native American way of life. We are lucky to have some stately specimens publicly accessible to remind us of this history and to marvel at their uniqueness. If you have interests in both history and horticulture, the Stagville Historic site is worth a visit, especially in September when you can see the unique fruit of the Osage Orange for yourselves. But be careful when you walk under the tree; the fruit is hard!

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Osage Orange tree branch with grapefruit-sized fruit behind Bennehan House (built 1787 and 1799)
Photo by Wendy Diaz September 16, 2016

* Durham’s Finest Trees program recognizes significant trees in Durham County, promotes discovery and ability to identify trees, and helps preserve the best examples of specific tree species, particularly native and those trees well adapted to Durham County. The program also promotes awareness of trees in our community and hopes to catalog fine examples of magnificent specimens of trees due to their size, setting, historical importance, or significant feature.  Durham naturalists and tree lovers of all ages are invited to submit their nominations for significant trees in Durham County now through October 1, 2017. Trees on private or public property can be nominated in each of the three categories: largest, historical, or meritorious. Preference will be given to native North Carolina tree species. Non-native trees may be considered if they are of a species, subspecies, variety or cultivar proven to be relatively long-lived and well adapted to North Carolina. Winning trees nominated in 2017 will be recognized on Durham’s Arbor Day in 2018. Please read the official rules before submitting a nomination.  Durham’s Finest Trees awarded recognition to seven trees in the spring as part of the Trees Over Durham Forum on April 24, 2017 held at the Durham Arts Council8. On March 6, 2016, four Durham trees (nominated in the 2015, the first year of the Durham’s Finest Tree program) located across the city and county were recognized for their size and significance during Durham’s Arbor Day ceremony at the Museum of Life and Science.9

** Based on a visual inspection only.

References:

  1. http://www.stagville.org/history/ and nomination form submitted by Jayd Buteaux at Stagville State Historic Site.
  2. http://ncforestservice.gov/Urban/big_species_results.asp and photograph of champion tree http://ncforestservice.gov/Urban/tree_detail.asp?Tree_ID=400
  3. http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=282737&isprofile=1&basic=Maclura%20pomifera
  4. Native Trees of the Southeast, An Identification Guide, Kirkman, K.L., Brown, C.L., Leopold, D.J.
  5. http://www.gpnc.org/osage.htm
  6. http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/tyk/2009/tyk12.html
  7. http://www.stagville.org
  8. May 18, 2017 http://durhamcouncilofgardenclubs.blogspot.com/2017/05 & August 10, 2017 https://durhammastergardeners.wordpress.com
  9. Four win in Durham’s Finest Trees contest” The Herald Sun-The Durham Herald, Durham, North Carolina Sunday, August 7, 2016 Page 6 (correction published on August 8, 2016)