What is Osage Orange, and is it Edible?

Osage orange (Maclura pomifera), also known as Bois d’ arc, Hedge Apple or Horse Apple, is a member of the Moraceae family, to which figs, mulberries, breadfruit and jackfruit also belong, and is native to the south-central United States.

This thorny, fast-growing, medium-sized tree or shrub which grows up to 20m (60′), tall, but is more typically 10-13m (30-40′) tall and almost as wide, with upwardly arching branches and a short trunk, forming a low, rounded, irregular-shaped canopy. It is often planted in rows along a boundaries and trained as a hedge. With short, stout, sharp thorns around 1.5cm (1/2″) long covering the branches and stems, and hedgerows provide an effective, impenetrable security barrier.

It’s also used as a windbreak, as it’s fast-growing, wind and heat tolerant, and can grow in poor and infertile soils. Osage orange is adaptable to most soil conditions, it can tolerate poor, wet or dry soils, but prefers areas in full sun, with cool temperatures and 100-115cm (40-45″) of rainfall a year.

Identifying Osage Orange

These trees are deciduous, the leaves are light green in summer, turning into to a golden colour in autumn (fall) before dropping to the ground. In terms of morphology, Osage orange trees bear simple leaves, arranged in an opposite arrangement. The lance-shaped, glossy leaves have smooth edges and a pointed tip, and produces a milky sap from the petiole (leaf stem) when broken off.

The bark on young twigs is green, turning orange-brown and deeply furrowed on older trunks. The inner bark, and the bark of the roots is a bright orange color.

Osage Orange Fruit

Osage orange trees are dioecious (either male and female plants), and the flowers are wind pollinated.. The trees begin to produce fruit (and seed) after 10 years of age.

The fruit of Osage orange are large, round, hard, wrinkled or bumpy in texture, pale green or lime green in color, and 8-15cm (3-6″) in diameter, and the skin has a pleasant, orange-peel smell. They are produced in summer. When cut open, the fruit has a white pulp inside, and a milky sap, with numerous small seeds crowded together. If the fruit is crushed it exudes a bitter, milky juice.

Osage orange fruit cut open, showing white, seedy pulp inside.

Osage orange fruit are definitely not edible, and most foraging animals will not eat them. Only squirrel and the deer will eat the tiny seeds inside, which are the only edible part.

What can the fruit be used for? Osage ornage fruit contain a chemical compound 2, 3, 4, 5-tetrahydroxystilbene, which is proven to repel ants, boxelder bugs, cockroaches, crickets, fleas and spiders. To use the fruit as a pest repellent, cut the fruit in half and place it in a dish located in the pest problem area. The fruit will ooze a messy milky sap as they degrade, so the dish is important to avoid the mess! One piece of fruit will last for a few weeks.

Uses of Osage Orange Timber

The wood of the Osage Orange tree is highly valued, as it produces a beautiful hard yellow-orange timber, with straight grain, a fine to medium texture, and a high natural luster. It’s beauty is surpassed only by its practicality.

Osage Orange timber is extremely durable and is considered to be one of the most decay resistant woods in North America, sometimes being used for railway ties and fence posts. It’s also a very strong wood, and highly prized for making archery bows. It was traditionally used by Native Americans to make bows and war clubs. Additionally, it’s also very best firewood. but there is, Osage orange wood is highest in BTU level (producing more heat), even beating out black locust timber. The bark from the roots also yields a yellow dye. This is quite a useful tree, even if the fruit aren’t edible!

References

  • Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Osage orange”. Encyclopedia Britannica, Invalid Date, https://www.britannica.com/plant/Osage-orange. Accessed 25 March 2021.
  • Iowa State University Extension and Outreach – Osage Orange
  • University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture – Plant of the Week: Osage Orange (Bois d’ arc, Hedge Apple, Horse Apple) by: Gerald Klingaman, Extension News – February 11, 2000
  • Coder, Kim D. 2018. Osage-orange (Maclura pomifera):A traveling tree. Warnell School of Forestry & NaturalResources, University of Georgia, Thompson MillsForest & State Arboretum Outreach Product.ARBORETUM-18-20. Pp.14. – https://www.warnell.uga.edu/sites/default/files/inline-files/Osage-orange%20Maclura%20pomifera%20A%20Traveling%20Tree%20ARBOR-20.pdf
  • New Mexico State University – Osage Orange, Maclura Pomifera
  • N.C. Cooperative Extension – North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox – Maclura pomifera
  • Washington State University – WSU Clark County Extension, PNW Plants – Osage Orange
  • Oregon State University, College of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Horticulture – Landscape Plants, Maclura pomifera

2 Comments

  1. Osage orange leaves can reputedly be fed to pet silkwoms. I never did find local trees to try this in the many years I kept silkwoms, but lately I’ve realised there is a line of mature osage orange trees at Heide Art Gallery in Heidelberg in Melbourne.

    Like

    1. Thanks for that information, perhaps silkworms might eat the leaves of another tree related to mulberries. I’ll have to go visit Heide to check out the trees sometime!

      Liked by 1 person

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