Osage Orange

Osage-Orange (Maclura pomifera)
Osage-Orange is a native tree coming from a relatively small area in eastern Oklahoma, portions of Missouri, Texas and Arkansas. While used for centuries by native Americans in its original area for war clubs and bows, it was the first tree Lewis and Clark sent back east from St. Louis in 1804. Yet, with that modest beginning, the Osage-Orange probably has been planted in greater numbers throughout the United States in the 19th and early 20th century than almost any other tree species in North America. Because of its value as a natural hedgerow fence, it made agricultural settlement of the prairies possible, it then led directly to the invention of barbed wire in 1874, and then provided most of the posts for the wire that fenced the West. It is still considered the best wood for making archer’s bows. The Osage-Orange is one of America’s more interesting natives. It has at least two Internet web sites dedicated to keeping Osage-Orange enthusiasts informed (see www.osageorange.com and www.hedgeapple.com).

Basic Information
SpeciesSizeBasic Requirements
Osage-Orange (Maclura pomifera)Mature height of 30 to 35’ with a spread of 25’Zones 5 through 9A, prefers full sun and will grow in most soils.

Known also as hedge, hedge apple, bodark (for French bois-d'arc meaning wood of the bow), and bowwood, the name Osage-Orange comes from the Osage Indian tribe, which lived near the home range of the tree, and from the orange-like aroma of the fruit after it is ripe. These trees are easily recognized by the glossy, lance-shaped leaves and their short, stout one inch thorns, that give them their value as fences for farm animals.

Osage-Orange can be a shrub or a tree depending on its surroundings. If standing alone in full sun it will become a multi-stemmed shrub. If it has neighboring competition from the side it can be come a single stemmed tree. Young trees can develop an upright, pyramidal habit. It is a fast grower. Osage Orange has been recorded to heights of over 60 feet (average 30-35 feet), trunk diameters of 4 to 7 feet (1.5 feet average), and a spread of up to 60 feet (25 feet average). Strangely the oldest and biggest Osage-Orange tree is in Virginia and not in its native habitat area. The champion is fifty four feet tall with a span of ninety feet. It is estimated to be 350 to 400 years old.

The bark, up to ¾ inches thick, is light gray-brown tinged with orange. The bark on large trees separates into shaggy strips. The leaves of Osage Orange are simple in form, alternating along twigs, and are thick and shiny. Three to six inches long, the leaves have a long tapering and pointed tip. They are 2-3 inches wide with a rounded leaf base. Leaf color is dark shiny green on top and light green color on the underside. In the fall, Osage-Orange foliage is bright yellow.

Osage-Orange trees are either male or female and only the females will bear the rather ponderous fruit from rather small insignificant looking flowers. Called “hedge apples”, the fruit is a large, green-yellow wrinkled ball up to 6 inches in diameter. While the fruit ripens in the fall, it often hangs in the tree after all the leaves have fallen off. The large fruits can be somewhat dangerous to folks standing directly below them as they fall, hard hats are in order if you choose to spend a lot of time under such a tree. When warmed by the rays of the sun, the skin smells much like the rind of an orange. Inside is a pithy core surrounded by up to 200 small seeds.

Osage Orange Choices
Thornless and Fruitless Cultivars of Osage Orange include Witchita and White Shield -(Maclura pomifera 'White-shield') which is thornless even when very young and is preferred. Also Park and Pawhuska.

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