Food For The Extinct

The "monkey ball" fruit of the Osage Orange tree (photo from Architect of the Capitol via Wikimedia Commons)
The “monkey ball” fruit of the Osage Orange tree (photo from Architect of the Capitol via Wikimedia Commons)

6 October 2015

Why is the Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) “monkey ball” such a prolific fruit when almost nothing eats it?

Why is the avocado seed so large?  (Persea americana)

Open avocado showing huge seed (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Open avocado showing huge seed (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Why does the honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) have huge thorns on its trunk?  And…

Honeylocust thorns (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Honeylocust thorns (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

… large seed pods that no one eats?

Honey locust seed pod (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Honey locust seed pod (photo by Andrew Dunn from Wikimedia Commons)

These plants were food for giants that are now extinct.

Just 13,000 years ago the Americas were inhabited by mammoths, horses and giant ground sloths whose diet included “monkey balls,” avocados and honey locust pods.  Only a giant could eat such large fruit in one gulp and pass the seeds through its digestive track.

The giant ground sloth (Megatherium) for instance weighed 4 tons (8,000 pounds) and could reach 20 feet high when he put his paw on a tree trunk and stood on his hind legs.  He could also damage the trees so the honey locust evolved big thorns for protection.

Megatherium, extinct ground sloth (illustration from Wikimedia Commons)
Megatherium, extinct ground sloth (illustration from Wikimedia Commons)

He’s been extinct for 10,000 years, but the tree remembers.

For a fun 5-minute video about the fruits that point to missing mammals, watch below.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on each image to see its original)


Notes and links:

2 thoughts on “Food For The Extinct

  1. Never thought I’d be wondering this, but since bears are famous for eating avocados here in CA, are they large enough to pass the pits? I wonder about the grizzlies that were once here? We have 2 trees, but so far just squirrels, skunks, and raccoons.

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