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We are in debt to our Osage Orange trees...

Updated: Jun 28, 2023

In the following weeks, in this blog, I'll be sharing information about some of Delaware's Champion trees, with statistics borrowed from "BIG TREES OF DELAWARE."


Poet’s Tree

"BIG TREES OF DELAWARE" is published by the Delaware Forest Service and is available online at:


As I did this week, I'll title these Big Tree pieces:

"We are in debt to 'Tree of the Week' trees..."

In addition to their natural beauty, trees can improve air and water quality, help increase property values, reduce energy costs, and provide habitat to wildlife.

Trees provide many valuable benefits

Who can put a value on an old shade tree? Many times the term “value” automatically evokes the idea of dollars and cents, but trees offer a diverse range of valuable benefits that are, quite simply, priceless. The many contributions trees make to society are often taken for granted, or maybe only the most obvious come to mind. But considering just a few of the most important benefits, it is possible to develop an even greater appreciation of trees.

1. Shade or Cooling Effect - Cities tend to be warmer than the surrounding countryside by an average of 1 to 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Trees and shrubs, used wisely, can help combat this warming effect in at least two important ways. The first involves how the tree deals with direct sunlight (solar radiation). In the summer, the leaves in the tree’s crown reflect and absorb solar radiation, thus creating a cooling effect on hot days. Conversely, in the winter, the leaves are gone from the tree and more solar radiation reaches the ground where we appreciate it on those cold winter days. The second is the release of water into the atmosphere, a process known as transpiration. Research has shown that a single isolated tree can transpire approximately 88 gallons of water per day, providing there is sufficient soil moisture available. This can be compared to the cooling activity equivalent to five window-mounted air conditioners.

2. Wind Reduction - Wind Breaks The ability of trees to alter wind patterns has been recognized for years. The shelter belts that were planted during the dust bowl days were very effective as windbreaks. But how many of us have stopped to consider how conifers (such as pine trees) planted on a slope can impede the cold air that would normally flow to a low-lying frost pocket? Planting trees in the right places can provide many benefits. It might be wise to remember that trees, which are not required to be taken down every summer, serve as natural snow fences. A few dense trees planted in the right place will reduce winter heating bills by blocking the passage of air into the house and reducing heat loss.

3. Noise and Odor Abatement - Leaves, twigs, and branches have been shown to absorb sound and reduce ambient noise. Trees are also an effective barrier to wind-driven odor. 4. Pollution Abatement Aside from the familiar carbon dioxide-oxygen exchange, trees definitely help give us cleaner, purer air. There is no denying the filtration value of leaves—just look closely at the leaves of a tree on a hot summer day and notice the dust and dirt that has collected. And once autumn leaves fall, they begin to function as a soil filter.

5. Wildlife Habitat - It is easy to understand the value of habitat. Trees provide the two essentials for wildlife: food and cover. Depending on the amount, type, and spacing of the trees, you can attract many species of wildlife to your home, from songbirds to deer. Yet, stop and think, how many species of wildlife would you attract without trees and shrubs?

6. Natural Beauty - The aesthetic qualities of trees can make any house more visually appealing. Architecturally, plants are used to cut harsh lines, for traffic control, and for special effects around the home, and what about the imaginary jungles they spark in the minds of children? More broadly, trees provide breathtaking panoramas in our rural areas and create a rainbow of colors in our hardwood forests each fall. The world would be a mundane place without them.

Delaware’s Biggest Trees

Biggest doesn’t necessarily mean tallest. Three separate measurements are used to compare trees of the same species:

1. Circumference

2. Height

3. Average Crown Spread

1. Circumference at Breast Height (or CBH, as it is often referred) is measured in inches at a point on the tree trunk 4-1/2 feet above the ground. One point is given for each inch of circumference.

2. Tree height - Tree height is measured from the ground line to the highest point on the tree. One point is given for each foot of height.

3. Average Crown Spread - Two measurements are taken at the outer edges (drip line) of the spreading crown to measure its average spread. Measurements are recorded in feet at the widest point of crown spread and at the narrowest point. These two measurements are added together and divided by two to get the average crown spread. One-fourth of a point is given for each one foot of average crown spread (or one point for each four feet of spread).

Osage Orange - Hagley Museum

Delaware's biggest Osage Orange

Osage orange, Maclura pomiferum, also known as hedge apple, bow-wood, and mock orange, is native to the areas of the Great Plains historically inhabited by the Osage Indians. It's planted in hedgerows to establish natural fences with its stout branches and thorns. With a distinctive orange-brown bark, its large fruit resembles an un-ripe orange and contains several nut-like seeds. Freshly cut wood of the osage orange is bright yellow, but quickly turns to orange-red after exposure to the UV rays of sunlight. Hagley Museum's Osage was a national co-champion! Now the largest known Osage orange tree in the U.S. is located at the Patrick Henry National Memorial, in Brookneal, Virginia, and is believed to be almost 350 years old.

Sadly, Delaware's champion Osage Orange was brought down by a storm in August of 2020

There is only one Osage Orange tree on the property of Abbott's Mill Nature Center, that I am aware of, and it went unnoticed, out in the open, for several years. When it began fruiting two years ago I noticed it right in the middle of the dam, just above the spillway, and it now stands about 8 feet tall, although it was recently 'trimmed' by DelDOT. If you visit it, be careful because the branches are full of very sharp, hard thorns. You'll see why it was used for hedgerows that were said to be "horse-high, bull-strong, and pig-tight."

Abbott's Mill Nature Center's lone Osage Orange.

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