Storm fells four-century-old Baltimore tree

Sandy knocks over and uproots Druid Hill Park's big, ancient Osage orange

sandy druid osage orange

The end came for the Druid Hill Park Osage Orange tree, said to be 400 years-old. (Teenager, included for scale, is only 18 years-old)

Photo by: Fern Shen

A legendary, beloved and incredibly old Baltimore tree fell over Monday night in mega-storm Sandy – the Osage orange in Druid Hill Park that is said to be possibly 400 years old.

Located on Greenspring Avenue near the (late lamented) Baltimore Zoo Reptile House, the big tree stretched sideways, recumbent and regal, as befits a city resident who was already well-established years before George Calvert and other English settlers appeared on the scene.

Made wobbly by the rain or pushed over by the wind, the tree fell across the road in the storm. Since then and major parts of it have been removed to allow cars to drive through.

According to this 2002 Baltimore City Paper article, the tree was already so august and remarkable-looking in 1860 when the park was being planned that it was left in place and the road made to curve sharply around it.

Jeff Ellis, of the Friends of Druid Hill Park, said the 400 year age estimate is approximate and opinions from tree experts vary.

Where the Osage orange split, it was bright . . . orange. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Where the Osage Orange split, it was bright . . . orange. (Photo by Fern Shen)

The name of the tree comes from the Osage tribe and the “orange” refers to the orange-peel aroma of the grapefruit-sized fruits. But the woody center of Maclura pomifera is also orange.

That startling color was on display yesterday in the Druid Hill Park specimen in the places where its trunk had been violently split apart. (Indians used the fine-grained wood for bows. Farmers used the gnarly-limbed species as a living cattle fence.)

On the Friends of Druid Hill Park Facebook page, people have been sharing their sadness and fond memories of the four-century-old behemoth that was a north Baltimore landmark.

“That tree had a good life and made many people smile during its long life! 3 cheers for the osage orange!”

“I wanted to walk up there but it would be too sad.”

“Perhaps we could re-plant?”

“Can you save clippings?”

As for this last, I’d say head over there now before the rest goes off to the stump dump or the chipper. That’s history!

Baltimore's landmark Osage Orange tree, said to be 375 to 400 years old, in better days. (

Baltimore’s big old Osage Orange tree before Sandy knocked it down. (Photo credit:

Ah now, we hear via Anne Draddy that the city has put some caution tape around the tree remains and has plans for them. Here’s what Draddy, author of “Druid Hill Park: the heart of Historic Baltimore” told us via email:

“I also spoke to the City Arborist, Erik Dihle. City Forestry has put caution tape around the tree and plan to make table tops and other items out of the wood. It will be ‘repurposed’ as much as possible<" she wrote. "We are thinking of having a ceremony around it as well." She said in her research she found a reference to it being more than 350 years-old but still considered its loss, whether or not it's fully four centuries old, "heart-breaking." "Trees, as you likely know, are the largest and oldest living things on the planet," she wrote. "It’s very sad to lose a great one."

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  • Ian Patrick Hines

    That’s so sad to hear. I’m equal parts elated that I wasn’t in Baltimore to endure the storm and depressed that all this damage happened when I wasn’t there to help.

  • Apexbud

    The osage orange tree is an ancient species. Seeds have been found in the stomach of creatures from the Pleistocene era like the mastodon, giant sloth and mammoth. The dense wood burns with a BTU rating close to coal.

    • baltimorebrew

      Wow. Hard to say who’s going to get over to Greenspring Ave. first: the sentimentalists, the furniture-makers or the people with wood-stoves! fs

  • baltimorebrew

    We received this comment via a Facebook message from Marion J. Bedingfield, a former Baltimore city tree technician who now lives in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire:
    “Surely the most Notable Tree in the City of Baltimore… it had blown
    over hundreds of years ago and Greenspring Ave was curved around its
    location to preserve its beauty… It was the largest Osage orange in
    the City and I believe the State of Maryland… it inspired me to start
    the Baltimore City Notable Tree Program in the 80’s… what a loss to
    Baltimore, the State of Maryland and Me personally… seeing news
    reports out this way indicate that Baltimore dogged the bullet but it
    would appear ole Sandy was a pretty devastating Frankenstorm after
    all:-( ”

    • Zippy Baltimore

      Marion Bedingfield did the best “Tree Tours” of Baltimore and I miss those tours and Marion.  The tours left from Cylburn, included apples and cookies for participants on the motor coach, and perceptive comments by Marion, who left Baltimore for Hawaii. Now I see he lives in England; he certainly does get around. I talk to Eric Diehl about reviving the Tree Tours but nothing has come of that.

      • Charles

        There was a tree tour a few months ago.

  • baltimorebrew

    We also received some comments via email from Anne Draddy, author of “Druid Hill Park: the heart of historic Baltimore.”

    “We drove over at 6:30 this morning to see the damage.  It’s
    heartbreaking.  While researching the book, I found reference to the
    tree being 350+. I’m racking my brain to remember where I read that but I
    so much at that time that I cannot remember.  I do know that when
    Greenspring Avenue was built through the park, a  curve was added at
    that location so as not to damage the tree roots.  Regardless, it was
    one of those great old trees that is a big loss for
    a City in need of reduced temperatures, reduce flooding, oxygen, carbon
    absorption, majestic beauty, increase of habitat for birds and small
    animals on and on.”

    “I also spoke to the City Arborist, Erik Dihle.  City Forestry has put
    caution tape around the tree and plan to make table tops and other items
    out of the wood. It will be ‘repurposed’ as much as possible.  We are
    thinking of having a ceremony
    around it as well.  It was an old, majestic, living, working system. 
    Trees, as you likely know, are the largest and oldest living things on
    the planet.  It’s very sad to lose a great one.”

    • NatureArtBaltimore

      please post in social media if ceremony emerges

      • baltimorebrew

        Will do!

  • Unellu

    What a magnificent tree.  At the bottom it resembles a belly dancer’s sway.  At the top it is rich with the dense verdure of a life force only trees can sport. 

    Australia has the oldest living tree on the planet—-discovered in a grove in its Blue Mountain area–the Wollemi pine.  Multiple trees have been propagated from this grove–there is a Wollemi Pine in DC. 

    Trees can live on through genetic propagation but when you see a beauty such as this one, you can’t help but wish for it to be propped up, sutured and healed. 

    With this tree Sandy delivered a sadistic blow.  But men deliver worse blows to these life givers with their greed and their couldn’t care less attitude. 

    Trees are reviled when they fall and kill humans.  True, they can be lethal creatures when they mate with their cousin the wind. 

    The worst and the best in humans will always be drawn to trees.  They give us life and take away our lives.  We give them life and take away their lives.  Our link to trees is nothing short of a sublime tragedy.      

  • Francenabw

    tree in the park was suppose to last my life time, yet it succumbed

    on my “BIRTHDAY”.  It brought me JOY everytime I saw it. I would always slow down and pay homage to it.  I have lost a friend!

  • Poole Vicky

    So very sad to hear. And I was just thinking about this tree the other day as I saw some Oasge oranges on the ground near where I now live in Fort Worth… and missed that lovely tree which hung so gracefully over Green Spring Ave. A former c o-worker had to send me the link to this story since she knew I’d be saddenned…

    As the former curator of the (now closed) “Baltimore Zoo” Reptile House now working at a zoo in Texas, I would love a bit of that tree… so I hope they make make it know what becomes of it.  

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