Osage Orange

The spiny branches of this tree make a useful natural hedgerow; it tolerates difficult sites well. Its heavy wood is flexible and durable and can be used for fence posts, archery bows, tool handles and railroad ties.

Maclura pomifera, commonly called Osage-orange, hedge-apple, Horse-apple, Bois D'Arc, Bodark, or Bodock is a small deciduous tree or large shrub, typically growing to 25-60' tall at maturity and forming a short stout trunk 1-3' across. This tree is unique and can be identified by its stout trunk with coarse orange-brown bark, the short stout thorns on some of its branches, the structural characteristics of its flowers, and the unique fruits of the female trees. Osage-orange is hardy over most of the contiguous US.

Because of its strong and flexible wood, this tree has high resistance to damage from wind, hail, and ice. The shoots of a single year can grow 3–6 feet long and make a decent shade tree within ten years. It can be used as a hedge plant, but needs severe pruning to keep it in bounds. The thorny branches make pruning difficult and the trees can spread and become a real problem, easily causing flat tires even through very thick tread.
Osage Orange is dioecious (male and female flowers on separate trees). Male flowers develop in 1-3 racemes (flower cluster borne on long, slender, drooping stalks), each about 1-2" long, ¾-1½" across, and drooping downward ¾-2". They are, pubescent (covered with fine hair) greenish yellow with yellow anthers.

Female flowers are arranged in flowerheads about ¾-1" across and has up to 200 female flowers that are compressed tightly together with a hairy appearance. The flowers are cross-pollinated by the wind during the late spring or early summer for about 1-2 weeks after the leaves have developed. The male flowers soon wither away, while the female flowerheads are transformed into globoid fruits that become steadily larger in size during the summer. In fact, it is a compound fruit made of numerous small drupes crowded and grown together, thus, it is not one fruit but many. (A drupe is a fruit such as apricots, plums, and cherries with a thin outer skin, soft pulpy middle, and hard stony central part that encloses a seed.) The small drupes are filled with milky, latex-based juice which oozes out at the slightest wounding of the surface of the fruit. These hard fleshy fruits become 4-6" across during the fall and turning a bright greenish yellow at maturity.

The surface of each fruit is intricately wrinkled and they have an aroma that is similar to the fruits of citrus trees. Each fertile fruit contains up to 200 seeds. Although the fruit is inedible for the most part and may cause vomiting, the seeds are edible.

The glossy, lance-shaped leaves are arranged alternately on a slender growing shoot 3–4 feet long, varying from dark to pale tender green. Individual leaves are 2½-5" long and 1½-2½" across; they have long tapering tips and smooth to slightly wavy margins. The upper leaf surface is medium to dark green and smooth, while the lower surface is pale green and pubescent. In autumn they turn a clear bright yellow.

The trunk bark is brown to orange-brown and deeply furrowed with prominent ridges that are straight, slightly curved, or forked. The bark of branches and twigs is orange-brown to gray-brown and smoother; twigs have a slight tendency to zigzag and have straight, stout thorns, ¼-1" long. The leaves and young twigs also contain bitter white latex.

No other wood played such an important part in the early movement west of the settlers as the Osage Orange. It provided the necessary means to divide land and contain livestock. As it grew the branches were intertwined to make the hedge almost impenetrable by animals as well as man. After the invention of barbed wire, the trees still found use as a source of unbeatable fence posts. The wood is strong and so dense that it will neither rot nor succumb to the attacks of termites or other insects.

The heavy, close-grained yellow-orange wood of the Osage Orange is very dense and is prized for tool handles, treenails, fence posts, and other applications requiring a strong dimensionally stable wood that withstands rot. Straight-grained Osage timber (most is knotty and twisted) makes very good bows and was prized for the construction of bows by the Comanche Native Americans. Additionally, a yellow-orange dye can be extracted from the wood. When dried, the wood burns long and hot.
Osage Orange



Osage Orange



Osage Orange Trunk



Osage Orange



Osage Orange
The fruit was once used to repel spiders by placing one under the bed. Various studies have found an extract of Osage orange, to repel several species of mosquitoes, cockroaches, crickets, and ticks.

Fox Squirrels eat the seeds. The Brown Thrasher, Loggerhead Shrike, and other bird species use Osage Orange for cover and nesting habitat. The Loggerhead Shrike also uses the thorns of the twigs to impale its prey.

References:

1. Maclura Pomifera." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Sept. 2012. Web. 19 Sept. 2012. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maclura_pomifera

2. Mason, Jim. “Osage Orange” (n.d.) Great Plains Nature Center. Web. 19 Sept. 2012. Retrieved from: http://www.gpnc.org/osage.htm

3. Hilty, John. “Osage Orange” (2002/2012). Illinois Wildflowers. Web. 19 Sept. 2012. Retrieved from: http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/trees/plants/osage_orange.htm

4. Katpatuka. Maclura pomifera2 (2005) Digital Image. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Web. 19 Sept. 2012. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maclura_pomifera

5. Zell, H. Maclura pomifera 003 (2010) Digital Image. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Web. 19 Sept. 2012. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maclura_pomifera

6. Osage Orange Bark. (n.d) Digital Image. Illinois Wildflowers. Web. 19 Sept. 2012. Retrieved from: http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/trees/plants/osage_orange.htm

7. Osage Orange Fruit. (n.d) Digital Image. Illinois Wildflowers. Web. 19 Sept. 2012. Retrieved from: http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/trees/plants/osage_orange.htm

8. Jedlicka, V. Osage Orange Tree (2003) Digital Image. University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County. Web. 25 Sept. 2012. Retrieved from: http://lancaster.unl.edu/enviro/pest/nebline/hedgeapple.htm