On Saturday, October 20, 1804, the Lewis and Clark expedition were heading upstream on the Missouri River just south of present day Bismarck. They passed a small creek, about 20 yards wide on the starboard or east side of the River. That small creek is now known as Apple Creek. It empties into the Missouri River south of Lincoln.
Apple Creek drains a bigger area than most North Dakotans probably realize. I recently looked at a map of Burleigh County and it showed the source of Apple Creek is northeast of Bismarck. The east fork starts a few miles south of Wing while the west fork begins about ten miles north of Menoken. So Apple Creek flows through a considerable stretch of real estate.
One would assume that Apple Creek was named for some apple trees somewhere along the creek, but apparently that is not the case. Russell Reid in his book Lewis and Clark in North Dakota notes that the creek was named after some thorn apple growing along the creek.
Thorn apple, also known as red haw, but probably most widely known as hawthorn belongs to the genus Crataegus. There are two species native to North Dakota. They are small trees or large shrubs that produce lots of thorns and small edible fruits that resemble miniature apples. It might surprise you, but hawthorn is a member of the Rose Family, and so is the domesticated apple. No wonder the hawthorn fruits look like miniature apples!
Hawthorn can be found across the state in ravines, creek banks, and brushy hillsides where it is known to occasionally form rather dense thickets. Although the fruits of hawthorn are edible, few people eat or make jelly from them.
But even though we do not utilize the fruits of hawthorn, the animals do. The plants themselves provide important cover for wildlife, and the fruits are consumed by deer and a variety of small mammals and birds. Most ruffed grouse hunters and perhaps sharp-tail hunters learn quickly to be on the alert when approaching hawthorn, particularly late in the fall when a blanket of snow covers the ground.
If you happen to travel the area in and around Apple Creek, make a point to become more familiar with this creek noted by Lewis and Clark. Then, as you travel other parts of the state, be on the lookout for hawthorn: those thorny apple trees with miniature apples.
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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