Osage orange

Rosa 'All Ablaze' blazes cherry red in Burke Brothers' Tuscany exhibit, accenting classic Italian elements with bright flowers. (Ron Tarver / Staff photographer)

This is one of the more peculiar sights in autumn - the giant chartreuse fruit of the Osage orange tree, seen here in an artistic pile at Jenkins Arboretum on Saturday. It was near closing time, which would be sunset, though we wondered how anyone knew when the sun would set since there was no sun or setting to be seen. Just gray skies and increasing darkness. These fruits are weird as all get out, but aren't they interesting? The Osage orange's botanical name is Maclura pomifera, and it's a member of the mulberry family, named for an American geologist, William Maclure. The common name for both tree and fruit is hedge apple, apparently because it used to be used as a natural hedge. The fruit is inedible for humans but squirrels apparently like it, and I can attest to the fact that the fruit stays on the tree even after the leaves have fallen. (It was a sight not unlike the lighted Christmas balls in Rittenhouse Square.) The tree is also known for its breathtaking thorns, which might be a deterrent to those squirrels who can't wait for the fruit to drop. It certainly would've deterred cattle looking to cross into a neighbor's field. The Osage part of the name comes from the Native American tribe and the orange-peel scent of the skin of the fruit. It being so close to sunset, however that was being figured, we didn't get close enough to tell.