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The Walking Dead and the Osage Orange Tree

Mary Niehaus RallesI’m a big fan of The Walking Dead. For those of you not familiar with the TV show, there is a small band of people who are tenacious and relentless in teaming up to survive in a world where a disease has caused the world to be overrun with "walkers," or zombies.

I’m the first one to admit that there is a very low likelihood we’ll have to plan or prepare for this scenario. But if you just consider the backdrop of a world where anyone who wants to survive must do so by learning how to live sustainably, now I think we have a peaked interest. I already know who I would hand-pick as fellow survivors I’d want in my corner if homesteading, hunting, and gardening suddenly became a necessity to survival. And, in thinking about how to be self sufficient, live off the land, and build community around a common goal, the show becomes more relevant to some of the basic staples in life we are seeking to achieve here.

In a world where homesteading and gardening for food sources might suddenly be mandatory, I would want to know I had the tenacious and resourceful community here within GRIT in my corner. The GRIT community is a powerful network of skilled craftsmen and women — talented individuals carrying forward the know-how to continue to enjoy living self-sufficiently and in a sustainable way.

So, when I was talking to a friend the other day and joking about fruits I called “brains” as a kid — my mind always goes to zombies (hence my Walking Dead intro) — I was laughing about my early impression of the Osage Orange Tree.

The Osage Orange or hedge apple
Photo by Fotolia/ctvvelve

I remember this tree as simply being the one that dropped green brains in the street that sometimes were squished by passing cars. I'm an Ohio native, where the tree was introduced during the 1800s, so they are pretty common around here.

The Osage Orange Tree, or hedge apple tree, as it’s sometimes called, is one of those rare resources that has served a bunch of different purposes:

• The fruit itself, which is about the size of a softball, has never really held favor in any century, as it is not necessarily appealing to view and has no real practical purpose in use. But back in the 1800s, the Osage Orange Tree was used as a way to build fencing, growing naturally to protect homestead borders. The stems of most Osage Orange Trees are thorny, and the branches interlace. And the combined strength of this tree was a powerhouse of usefulness for homesteaders.

• The Osage Tree earned its name from the Osage Indians, who made their bows from the wood of the tree.The wood is orange and yellowish in color and very hard and heavy. The bow was considered to be of great value in trade and was used by Shawnee and Wyandotte Indians in Ohio as well. The wood was also used to make farm wagons and wagon wheels. For fencing, when planted together, it made a great barrier for fields.

• The trees are not used for fencing much today, but they are still of enduring quality and strength; in particular, craftspeople enjoy the beauty of the wood. I found a few really cool pieces of furniture crafted of the hearty and beautifully orange-colored wood on Etsy.

Which brings us back to my initial muse: The Walking Dead. Bow and arrows are quite valuable in this series, just as they were in early settler trade. Back then, it was said that one bow was worth that of a horse and blanket. I would imagine if we were still hunting and foraging for everything, we’d consider that a fair trade.

So, if we ever have a need to do what we already love to do the most, who’s with me?

Mary Niehaus Ralles
Ohio