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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Oh! The beauty of nature at May Watts Park


Above / Take a hike up the sled hill at May Watts Park to observe its ever-changing view every day, especially in autumn.

The colorful autumn landscape surrounding May Watts Pond is a natural tribute to a Naperville woman, May Theilgaard Watts, who enjoyed a passion for preservation and teaching about the great outdoors.

Naturalist Watts (1893-1975) is remembered for her dedication to the Illinois Prairie Path at a park, trail and District 204 elementary school named in her honor, located in the Countryside and West Wind subdivisions in Naperville.

Oh! So many connections!

This time of year, the grove of hedge apple trees at the entrance to May Watts Park from Oakton barely has begun to lose its leaves. The bright yellowish-green weird-looking fruit about the size of a softball with a “brainy” texture (also known as Osage orange) has fallen to the ground, soon to darken in color for local squirrels that have a heyday climbing to the treetops with the fruit. As the squirrels get to the meat of the Osage orange, we’ve observed that they spit out what they don’t like. Watch out for falling fruit when enjoying the trail in May Watts Park.

More than once we’ve repeated the seasonal quote by writer Elizabeth Lawrence.

“Even if something is left undone, everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves turn,”  wrote Lawrence, a garden designer, known for creating living laboratories for plants and birds.


Above / Discover a striking abundance of Osage oranges at the entrance to the trail around the retention pond in May Watts Parks.

Naperville is blessed with natural park settings throughout the city where that message can be applied to all the changes of the season during quiet walks through neighborhoods or along the Riverwalk where the fruits of the established trees are dropping in record numbers, sometimes faster than the leaves.

Seize the moments to see nature run its course. Just watch out when the wind blows! Osage oranges have fallen in striking abundance in May Watts Park and along Aurora Avenue, just west of Ogden.

Osage Orange at entrance to May Watts Trail

Osage Orange

Back in elementary school in Muncie, Ind., our first introduction to the “Osage orange” was during show-and-tell in third grade.  A fellow classmate brought a sample of the yellowish-green fruit to school to share, informing the class that the inedible, but not poisonous, fruit was named after the Osage Indians who lived in a large region in Oklahoma where the small deciduous trees were abundant. The orange reference was attached because its textured skin resembles an orange. The Osage orange tree was not as common in Indiana or Midwestern states as it was in Oklahoma and other Great Plains states.

To check our memory, we consulted our trusted World Book Encyclopedia where we learned the fruit also is called a “hedge apple.”

The tree that bears the fruit has a short trunk and crooked branches. Leaves are long, pointed and dark green and unlike other species changing colors and falling more and more by the day, as of Nov. 5, 2016, leaves are still clinging to the Osage orange tree we discovered in May Watts Park, though fruit by the dozens have fallen at the entrance to the trail.

Early Americans used the yellow, hard, durable wood for bows and arrows, wooden implements, fence posts and wagon wheels. As pioneers moved West, they also planted Osage orange trees to create a hedge or “living fence” around their farms in the early days of America prior to the use of barbed wire.

Today, the colorful fruit is sometimes used for autumn decorations in large bowls along with gourds and small pumpkins. The dense hardwood is often used for artistic carving and building hand-crafted wooden boxes.

If you enter the May Watts Trail from Oakton, look for the Osage orange tree on your right.

Note also that the May Watts Trail is a short hike and a clear shot from the nature trail around Lake Osborne, accessible from both Aurora Ave. and Oswego Road.

Imagine what May Theilgaard Watts and Marjorie Osborne would think of these two beautiful trails named in their honor.


RELATED POSTS / Use the “Search” tool on this website to discover photos and more about May Watts featured here.

Also, here’s a link to a Daily Herald story about May Watts during 50th Anniversary celebration in 2013.

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PN Editor
PN Editor
An editor is someone who prepares content for publishing. It entered English, the American Language, via French. Its modern sense for newspapers has been around since about 1800.


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