We’ve told you about the undeniably enchanted tree-tunnel hidden in Sugarcreek MetroPark in Bellbrook. Well, we’re about to add even more mystique to the Osage Orange Tunnel— mammoth mystique.
It turns out the knobby, bright lime green softball-sized fruit produced by the trees forming the Osage Orange Tunnel are not as useless as we may have thought. However, you do need to weigh around six tons, be 11 feet tall, and live about 11,000 years ago.
The bizarre, fleshy fruit was actually the perfect snack for large prehistoric mammals like the Woolly Mammoth and the Giant Ground Sloth. That’s why present-day mammals and birds aren’t able to stomach the alien-like Osaga oranges, sometimes referred to as hedge apples or monkey balls.
The fruit of the Maclura pomifera tree, or Osaga orange tree, needed a way to spread its seeds during the Pleistocene era. So Mother Nature, being a smart cookie, evolved the Osaga orange to be the fleshy, bright-colored fruit it is to attract massive mammals that traveled great distances in herds.
After the fruit was eaten and digested, the seeds were deposited with the mammals’ feces away from the parent tree. There, seeds could sprout a new Maclura tree and the cycle would begin again.
So next time you visit Sugarcreek MetroPark and you're kicking aside dozens of lumpy “monkey balls,” think about a hungry Woolly Mammoth who would love to trade places with you.