Welty On Wednesday: The Bois d’ Arc Tree And The Wit of Welty

I have always had a fascination with the fruit of the Bois d’arc tree.

While reading Losing Battles, I enjoyed seeing a bit of Miss Welty’s witty side as she referenced the tree.

Bois d’Arc, Maclura pomifera, has many common names such as Osage orange, hedge apple, horse apple, bodark ( I am thinking this is in reference to a certain famous boat) and bodock.

Native American Indians used the wood for making bows.  Observing this, early French settlers called the tree, Bois d’arc, roughly translated “wood of the bow.”

There is a Bois d’arc tree in my parents’ yard so I always take a basket and gather up as many as I can when I am visiting there in the fall…

LaGrange Fall 2013

Before the invention of barbed wire the trees were planted as hedges, the long sharp thorns made them an excellent choice for creating a natural fence.  When pruned the trees send up sprouts from the roots and make a hedge that is virtually animal proof.

The wood is very dense and close-grained making it a top choice for fence posts, tool handles and bows.

My friend John Haltom (click to view his website) makes the most beautiful bows from the wood of the Bois d’arc…

bois d'arc bow

I enjoy gathering the fruit and placing it in bowls and containers because I simply love the way it looks!

I love  the bright green color and grainy texture…

Bois d'arc

Bois d'arc

The fruit has been thought to have insect repellant properties.  It has been said to keep spiders and roaches away – well that makes it even better to me!

I would put a bowl of fruit in every room!…

Bois d'arc

One of my observations while reading Losing Battles was Eudora’s use of the tree’s name.  Miss Julia Mortimer, the teacher attempting to bring education and refinement to the rural community of Banner, Mississippi, refers to the tree as the Bois d’arc while all of the other characters use the more americanized term Bodock.  A witty little detail pointing out the difference in level of refinement was not lost on me!

In an interview for The Paris Review Miss Welty says of the writing of Losing Battles:

“I wanted to see if I could do something that was new for me: translating every thought and feeling into action and speech, speech being another form of action—to bring the whole life of it off through the completed gesture, so to speak. I felt that I’d been writing too much by way of description, of introspection on the part of my characters. I tried to see if I could make everything shown, brought forth, without benefit of the author’s telling any more about what was going on inside the characters’ minds and hearts. For me, this makes almost certainly for comedy—which I love to write best of all. Now I see it might be a transition toward writing a play.”

I agree, to me Losing Battles is a comedy – there is also a bit of darkness – but overall the comedic aspect of the novel prevails.

Here’s hoping you gather up some goodies today…

dog with basket







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  1. Donna Evans says:

    Thanks Marsha. I have also always liked these fruits. I am glad to learn more about the tree (and Miss Welty).

  2. Scottye Lee says:

    Thanks for the education, Marsha. I grew up in the country outside of Oxford but never saw a Bois d’Arc until much later. When we lived in the apartment outside of Nashville last fall, these trees were everywhere and the fruit was all over the ground. Cars smashed them, leaving a nasty mess. I was not a fan; as a matter of fact, I thought they were ugly. Now, having read your blog, I can see them in a different light. I am not sure yet that I would bring them in the house, but I can certainly see their value in outside decorations. Thanks, also for the insight into Miss Welty’s book. I have not read her in a long time. You may have inspired me to do just that. Hope y’all are well. Missing Mississippi.

  3. mnestorc@aol.com says:

    Oh good, I am glad that you are willing to give the Bois d’arc another chance! Let me know if you pick up some Welty to read – I love Losing Battles but it is long so maybe start with something a little shorter like Delta Wedding!

  4. Susan Haltom says:

    Marsha, thanks for sharing the John’s website. When he works in this wood, his hands are stained bright yellow! Many of our osage orange trees are somewhat contorted, but when he orders staves from which to make his bows, he needs a good six feet of straight wood, so he generally finds that west of the Mississippi. Also I remember reading some of my old horticulture books from the early 1800s which mention sticking osage orange cuttings for fence lines; just imagine how expensive it was to fence in a pasture back then, and this would have been a slow but less expensive way. It’s always interesting to follow your posts!

    • mnestorc@aol.com says:

      Thanks Susan and I am so happy to have had John’s bows included in this post. It was fun to research the Bois d’arc and its’ rich history. As always, thanks for reading!