The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feed Lot Clearance Sale – #4

(The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale is a regular Email newsletter, with archives available on the main TTR site at least a month after first publication. To receive the latest newsletters, please subscribe.)

Originally published on October 12, 2018

Maclura pomifera

Right about now, phone lines and Google searches are full of questions across North Texas, both from new transplants and a few longtimers. Namely, they find strange green fruit about the size of a softball lying all about the place, with strange folds and grooves evocative of a human brain. Congratulations: you’ve just come across Maclura pomifera, also known throughout North Texas as “Osage orange,” “bois d’arc,” and “Didn’t I tell you kids to clean up that crap off the yard before it starts to smell?” As with oranges, apples, and avocados, now is the perfect time to enjoy Osage oranges as nature intended: most people use them as balls in impromptu skittles and cricket matches, and a few lobbed over a fence are great for murdering swimming pool and hot tub filters in the middle of the night. They float, they roll, they split open on impact when overripe: they’re the perfect symbol of Texas autumn. Why we don’t build giant parade floats shaped like them is beyond me.

Because of their ubiquity, I’m regularly asked about what to do with them: the tree’s wood is famous for constructing longbows and fraternity hazing paddles, but most people are at a loss with what to do with the fruit when the Google searches don’t include pie recipes. Because the Triffid Ranch strives to be a horticultural authority, below are the most commonly asked questions about the noble Osage orange and answers that may or may not be useful:

How do you locate an Osage orange tree before it starts dropping fruit?

Since the natural tendency of Osage orange trees is to freeze and wait for a predator to leave before getting up and prancing away, you have to outthink them to find them. Consider taking a bath, brushing your teeth, changing your underwear, reading instead of watching television, and turning off your phone while driving. Such contrary and antisocial behavior will confuse the Osage orange tree, causing it to display its natural phosphorescence, where it will be easy to catch and tame.

Another guaranteed way to find them is to look along sidewalks and bikepaths. Since Osage orange branches feature three-inch thorns, they’re regularly planted in suburban thoroughfares to discourage invaders and pedestrians. Whether allowed to grow foliage over a sidewalk or to have that foliage trimmed off and dropped on a bikepath, such “John Galt gardening,” if applied regularly, encourages joggers and bicyclists to find alternate routes, and is easier to camouflage than broken glass or caltrops. In this case, look for blood trails, discarded bicycle inner tubes, and yuppies screaming “I didn’t know it would take off MY face!”

Are Osage oranges edible?

Osage oranges are edible, and even tasty, if you happen to be a Columbian mammoth or a ground sloth. If you are, report at once to your local Time Agent mobilization center, because you’re really, really lost. For everyone else, the interior of an Osage orange is essentially a ball of sisal rope packed full of cotton and then soaked in lime juice, with a few sunflower seeds for flavor. If chowing down on old baseballs is your way of getting enough fiber in your diet, knock yourself out.

What do Osage oranges taste like?

Despair, depression, and unwashed feet. They’re the fruit equivalent of a Cory Doctorow novel, only with more depth and nuance. But please: don’t let me dissuade you from trying a big fibrous bite for yourself. I love watching dogs pick up toads in their mouths and then have to drag their tongues across the lawn to remove the taste of toad urine, too.

When Osage oranges fall from their tree, are they ripe?

Now that’s a stupid question. Osage oranges reproduce much like crows: when the young leave the nest, the parent will stick around to watch, but won’t actually help if the youngster gets in trouble. That’s why, for the first six months of life, Osage orange fruit have venomous quills with barbs that stick in the flesh. Early on in their history, this was to hitch rides on dinosaurs and uintatheres so their seeds were spread hundreds or possibly thousands of kilometers away from their original dropping grounds. Now, it’s so the seedlings have a ready and available source of nitrogen as their new host reaches the end of its travels and the corpse starts to rot.

Why do squirrels tear up fallen Osage oranges and leave a horrible mess in my yard?

Surprisingly, it’s not because squirrels hate you and want you to suffer. Well, that’s a factor, too, but not the only one. It has everything to do with the great squirrel god BROOOOOOOON: when squirrels pick a new king, any that can pronounce their god’s name without passing gas are automatic contenders. The next test is to seek the key to the Squirrel King’s Bedroom, which is hidden in an Osage orange bud at the beginning of the year and the fruit allowed to grow around it. Any who possess the Key and then spend a year as king are then transmogrified into the next stage of rodent evolution: the Fratbro. Leaving horrible messes in your front yard and getting indignant when called on it is just a matter of preparation for larger messes later.

How do I plant my own Osage orange tree?

The bad news: it involves blood, stolen organs, and bitter tears. The good news: it doesn’t necessarily involve YOUR blood and stolen organs.

I heard that Osage oranges could be used to repel cockroaches. How does that work?

Just follow these three steps:

Numero Uno: Hold the Osage orange over the roach to be repellled. 

Numero two-o: Aim so that the Osage orange lands near but not on the roach.

Numero three-o: Release the Osage orange, note the big thick meaty thud as it hits the ground, and watch the roach run off in the opposite direction. You would, too, if one of these nearly hit you in the head.

Okay: can you use Osage oranges to KILL roaches?

Also absolutely: if you have a good fastball, you could kill mountain lions, rhinoceroses, nematodes, lampreys, and the occasional 300-pound Samoan attorney, too. It’s all about proper application.

How do I remove an Osage orange tree from my yard if I decide I don’t want it any more?

Oh, now you’re in trouble. Osage oranges imprint on their owners, and will try to track them down when abandoned. This may involve traveling great distances, which explains how they became invasive in New Zealand. (This, incidentally, is why New Zealand has such an extensive program to prevent the introduction of exotic intruders. Osage orange/kauri pine hybrids are a wily breed that regularly knock over garbage cans, destroy dams, and interfere with orc industry. Worse, a recent cooperation with introduced Australian brushtailed possums and indigenous keas may leave most of South Island uninhabitable by humans by 2040, to an unknown purpose that may involve local sports journalism.) You now have two real choices, because saturation nuclear bombing just encourages new growth: move to Antarctica sometime in the early Jurassic, or spend more than two months in a highrise loft or other area that sets off the tree’s natural fear of heights and plastic people.

Is this accurate advice?

Let’s put it this way: come over here so I can pull your other leg, because otherwise you’re going to walk in circles for the rest of your life.

Recent updates to the web site:

New enclosure: “Woodrue” (2018)

New Article: “State of the Gallery: October 2018”

Other News

At the time of this writing, the newsfeeds are full of aftermath video now that Hurricane Michael has passed through, and the damage in the Florida Panhandle has a personal stake. Sixteen years ago, I took a job in Tallahassee that literally changed my life, and spent a lot of time in Panama City and Wakulla Springs as well. While it’s every individual’s choice as to whether and where to send aid, but the site Charitywatch has a list of recommended charities both vetted for their legitimacy and their efficiency. Me, I still owe the people of Tallahassee a debt I can never repay for their kindnesses and friendliness when I moved there, but I’m going to do my best.

In lighter discussions, the big Harlan Ellison package giveaway was a big success: everyone who responded has received their package of swag, with the exception of two friends in Canada and Australia. (To mail to them requires getting to a US Post Office during office hours in order to fill out Customs paperwork, but theirs are going out this week.) Obviously, doing this on a regular basis isn’t practical without taking another side-job, but the idea of sending off little messages-in-a-bottle on a regular basis has appeal. (Yes, you can tell I grew up during the zine days of the Eighties and Nineties, where casual acquaintances would send off 20-kilo packages of random cultural detritus for no other reason than to share the wealth.) Details will follow, but expect both random giveaways to both subscribers signing up after the previous newsletter and to the whole of the mailing list. See? I TOLD you it would be worth the effort to subscribe.

And on completely different subjects, the Spectrum Awards, which honor the best of fantastic art, just opened for the 26th annual awards, and this is the first year the Triffid Ranch submits photos. The original plan was to do so at the beginning of 2017, and then the move from the Valley View gallery got in the way, and a lot of life intruded on doing so in 2018. Next year’s Spectrums, though, are an option: I have no delusion of winning any category, but I’d like to know that I’d qualify for inclusion in the big annual volume. And so it goes.

Recommended Reading

For the last ten years, Stewart McPherson and the rest of the crew at Redfern Natural History has set the standard for the ultimate in books on carnivorous plants and carnivorous plant habitats, and most of us had no idea that he was only getting started. Redfern Natural History’s guides to Sarracenia and Nepenthes pitcher plants usually contain personally witnessed information only released to the public weeks or even days before the publication of new books (the Nepenthes guides have been rendered obsolete by McPherson’s own research to the point where Redfern has published paperback booklets on the newest available information), and Redfern’s guides to Heliamphora pitcher plants may not be exceeded in this century. At the gallery, the carnivorous plant reference library was a very small shelf before Redfern Natural History came along, and now I need more room. This is all preamble for the much-anticipated Redfern volume on Cephalotus follicularis, the Australian pitcher plant, coming out at the end of the year. Buy it NOW, before the preorders are sold out.

Music

In a better timeline than the one that we’re in now, I wouldn’t have to tell you about Hail Sagan. Talent should tell, and darkwave would be leading a renaissance in terrestrial and satellite radio, especially for those of us who survived radio in the Eighties. However, since we’re stuck with the Paratime level we’re on, we can make up for this disgrace by getting word out. And as soon as the band tours again, you WILL know about any tour dates near Dallas.

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feed Lot Clearance Sale is copyright 2018 by Paul Riddell, and may be reproduced in its entirety and forwarded at will. The Texas Triffid Ranch is Dallas’s pretty much only carnivorous plant gallery, located in scenic Richardson, Texas, and is open by appointment. More information is available at www.txtriffidranch.com. And in yet another parallel reality, a 61-year-old Sid Vicious is strapping on his bass guitar and going on stage in Branson, Missouri…to open for Scott Weiland.

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