Fossils indicate that Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) once grew naturally well outside its native range of Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Missouri, and Arkansas. Then it retreated, perhaps ahead of advancing glaciers. Thousands of years later, because it was cultivated and planted by settlers as inexpensive fencing, it once again spread. Now, you may even find Osage orange growing in the eastern states and well into the Great Plains.
Wherever Osage orange grew, it had many a use. At one time, a Plains Indian brave would gladly trade a horse and blanket for a bow made of the wood. The reputation of such bows spread widely from the land of their makers-the Osage Indians of Arkansas and Missouri. Bows of this hard, strong wood even were found by explorers in use as far north as Montana. That's why in many parts of the nation the wood carries the name bois d'arc, French for wood of the bow. Americanized, the term becomes bowdark.
Harder and stronger than even white oak, Osage orange was once cut for railroad ties. While other woods for ties lasted but a few years, Osage orange served for 20! And many a Midwestern farm still has fence posts of the wood in place after a century.
Because of Osage orange's hardness and durability, it often was used for wagon wheels. Highly decay-resistant, it was even laid as paving blocks. In today's world, however, the wood is scarce as lumber. Yet sanded smooth and oiled, Osage orange beats all others for cutting boards that will stand up to a blade.