The Osage-orange is named after the Osage Indians associated with its range. In the fall, Osage-orange trees hang heavy with bright green, bumpy spheres the size of softballs, full of seeds and an unappetizing milky latex. They soon fall to the ground, where they rot, unused, unless a child decides to test their ballistic properties.
This tree makes a fleshy fruit to entice animals to eat them, along with the seeds they contain. The seeds pass through the animal and are deposited, with natural fertilizer, away from the shade and roots of the parent tree where they are more likely to germinate. But, no current native animal eats Osage-orange fruits1.
In the case of the Osage-Orange tree, the woody-seed-pod fruit were once eaten for its sweet pulp by giant ground sloths and elephant-like animals. These multi-ton animals had such big gullets that they didn’t need to chew a lot, so most of the seeds passed through the animals unharmed and ready to propagate and reproduce more trees2. However, the giant animals including groundsloths disappeared about 13,000 years ago, toward the end of the last Ice Age of the Pleistocene.
Nothing today eats it. Once it drops from the tree, all of them on a given tree practically in unison, the only way it moves is to roll downhill or float in flood waters. Without mammoths, groundsloths, and other megafauna to transport its seeds uphill, the range of the species has gradually shrank to the Red River region3.