Two native wild crops of Indiana’s autumn have very unusual names — the paw paw, also called the Indiana banana, and the hedge apple, also known as the Osage orange, so called because of the citrusy smell of the ripe fruit. The former resides in creek bottoms and other areas of damp, forested ground. The latter often lined fence rows, or hedgerows, in the old days. With modern farming practices and wire fences, these stands have nearly been eliminated but can still be found dotting pastures, roadsides and woodlots of Johnson County and most of central and southern Indiana. I traveled to the Lafayette area recently, where from my childhood days I knew the whereabouts of some of these trees. The roads have been paved, and there are no longer any pullovers near the woods I wish to enter. On top of that, the woods I roamed as a child is now marked with no-trespassing signs. I am torn. Do I drive to the farmhouse a few miles away and ask permission? Certainly me driving up the lane will get the dog barking, and then the barking dog will arouse the farmer from his midday nap, and then the farmer will be mad at me and say “No!” I made an executive decision and parked the car at the country cemetery, where my grandparents are buried, next to the woods. I think to myself that sometimes it’s more expedient to beg forgiveness than to ask permission. I glance left and right over both shoulders, pull the bill of my hat down, and with a plastic bag in hand, jump the fence. I’m sure Grandpa did it many times; in fact I’m sure I did it with him during squirrel season. I eventually find a grove of paw paws just where I left it years ago, and their large, dark green, tropical leaves reach for the sky amid all the trees they compete with. No paw paws to be found, so I go to another patch and find a rare cluster of five and a single. I shake the limber 4-inch trunk, but nothing falls. I shake again, and they fall to the ground, the single one nearly missing my head. In the bag they go and will be substituted in place of bananas for nut bread. Paw paws are about the size, color and weight of an avocado, but they have many seeds instead of a single large one. Like an avocado, it is ripe when it turns from green to black, and semi-sweet with a custard consistency. In addition to being a fall woodlot food, it has also been researched to use as an anti-parasitic drug and in the treatment of lung and breast cancer. The Osage orange is named after the Osage Indian tribe in Texas, who years ago propagated the tree for its fine use as bow making material. It made such a good hunting bow that it was valued as a trade item for distant tribes. As guns replaced bow and arrows, a new use was found as farmers used it for fencing between fields and property lines, interweaving the limbs to make what farmers called a “horse high, bull strong and hog tight fence.” Once barbed wire fence became available, the hedge tree was cut to make the finest, rot-resistant fence posts. When iron posts began to replace the wood post, a dye formed from the versatile Osage tree was used to dye the uniforms of our doughboys during World War I. Today the Osage orange just grows with no specific value, a nuisance, save for lovers of trees such as me. People pick up the 6-inch hedge apples in woodlots or along the road, placing them on decorative fall wreaths. Some rustic furniture is made from it, though it is one of the hardest woods in North America and tough on saw blades and carving tools. Its biggest use today, however, is the one it was originally intended for — the making of bows. Many bow traditionalists seek the wood for its strength and accuracy, and it’s known to be superior to any other North American or European wood for that purpose. I soon find the area where the hedge apple trees used to dot the pristine lime green pasture, where a herd of Angus cattle used to graze. With the cattle long gone, the trees have suffocated the landscape and essentially choked themselves out. Such is the reclamation of a vacant field. My handsaw is useless, so I pick up a few scattered “oranges” and head for the car. It was a great day, and besides, I know this great place with more Osage orange trees.

Two native wild crops of Indiana’s autumn have very unusual names — the paw paw, also called the Indiana banana, and the hedge apple, also known as the Osage orange, so called because of the citrusy smell of the ripe fruit.

The former resides in creek bottoms and other areas of damp, forested ground. The latter often lined fence rows, or hedgerows, in the old days. With modern farming practices and wire fences, these stands have nearly been eliminated but can still be found dotting pastures, roadsides and woodlots of Johnson County and most of central and southern Indiana.

I traveled to the Lafayette area recently, where from my childhood days I knew the whereabouts of some of these trees. The roads have been paved, and there are no longer any pullovers near the woods I wish to enter. On top of that, the woods I roamed as a child is now marked with no-trespassing signs.

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I am torn. Do I drive to the farmhouse a few miles away and ask permission? Certainly me driving up the lane will get the dog barking, and then the barking dog will arouse the farmer from his midday nap, and then the farmer will be mad at me and say “No!”

I made an executive decision and parked the car at the country cemetery, where my grandparents are buried, next to the woods. I think to myself that sometimes it’s more expedient to beg forgiveness than to ask permission. I glance left and right over both shoulders, pull the bill of my hat down, and with a plastic bag in hand, jump the fence. I’m sure Grandpa did it many times; in fact I’m sure I did it with him during squirrel season.

I eventually find a grove of paw paws just where I left it years ago, and their large, dark green, tropical leaves reach for the sky amid all the trees they compete with. No paw paws to be found, so I go to another patch and find a rare cluster of five and a single. I shake the limber 4-inch trunk, but nothing falls. I shake again, and they fall to the ground, the single one nearly missing my head. In the bag they go and will be substituted in place of bananas for nut bread.

Paw paws are about the size, color and weight of an avocado, but they have many seeds instead of a single large one. Like an avocado, it is ripe when it turns from green to black, and semi-sweet with a custard consistency. In addition to being a fall woodlot food, it has also been researched to use as an anti-parasitic drug and in the treatment of lung and breast cancer.

The Osage orange is named after the Osage Indian tribe in Texas, who years ago propagated the tree for its fine use as bow making material. It made such a good hunting bow that it was valued as a trade item for distant tribes. As guns replaced bow and arrows, a new use was found as farmers used it for fencing between fields and property lines, interweaving the limbs to make what farmers called a “horse high, bull strong and hog tight fence.”

Once barbed wire fence became available, the hedge tree was cut to make the finest, rot-resistant fence posts. When iron posts began to replace the wood post, a dye formed from the versatile Osage tree was used to dye the uniforms of our doughboys during World War I.

Today the Osage orange just grows with no specific value, a nuisance, save for lovers of trees such as me. People pick up the 6-inch hedge apples in woodlots or along the road, placing them on decorative fall wreaths. Some rustic furniture is made from it, though it is one of the hardest woods in North America and tough on saw blades and carving tools.

Its biggest use today, however, is the one it was originally intended for — the making of bows. Many bow traditionalists seek the wood for its strength and accuracy, and it’s known to be superior to any other North American or European wood for that purpose.

I soon find the area where the hedge apple trees used to dot the pristine lime green pasture, where a herd of Angus cattle used to graze. With the cattle long gone, the trees have suffocated the landscape and essentially choked themselves out. Such is the reclamation of a vacant field.

My handsaw is useless, so I pick up a few scattered “oranges” and head for the car. It was a great day, and besides, I know this great place with more Osage orange trees.