One of the most unusual members of the Mulberry family, whose species are gathered on the south-western edge of the Systematic Beds, is the Osage Orange, Maclura pomifera. This tree bears orange-sized fruit, a lurid neon green in colour, high up in the tree. The autumn winds often bring the fruits down so the grass beneath becomes littered with these large, deeply wrinkled, green tennis balls, or as the horticultural staff call them, pickled gardeners’ brains!
It is endemic to North America and is named for the Osage Indians of Missouri. Its hard wood was used to make war-clubs. European settlers, however, made use of it as an effective livestock hedge. The Osage Orange enjoys the Cambridge climate and ours is one of the best specimens in the country. It is dioecious, with males and females as separate trees. At least one of each sex must be planted to ensure pollination and seed set, although isolated females will produce seedless fruits.
Just behind the two magnificent Maclura trees is a rather small and shrubby relative, Cudrania tricuspidata. It bears very similar fruits to the Maclura, but they are pea-sized and so are usually overlooked. However, the label reveals this tree was planted in 1890, and so is over 100 years old.