Saturday, March 29, 2014

Osage Oranges and Hedge Apples

Osage Orange

When ripe, the fruit is green, but by spring the surviving fruit has turned a blood red to light crimson. The seeds are a golden yellow. The fruit, produced by the Osage orange (Maclura pomifera), are commonly call "hedge apples." Other common names include bodark, bois d'arc, and bow-wood. Bois d'arc is a place name in Butler County, Kansas and a ghost town.

The tree is medium in size, normally growing to 40 feet and occasionally as tall as 60 feet. The trunk is short with a rounded or irregular crown. The limbs are pendulous and often form a tunnel when maintained well. The leaves are a shiny to dark green, turning yellow in the fall. The twigs are buff to orange-brown and armed with 1/2 inch spines. When cut, the stems exude a milky sap.

The Osage orange is dioecious, meaning male parts and female flowers are on separate trees. The small, green flowers show in May, and the female trees produce 3 to 5 inch fruit which ripen in September and falls to the ground, where it provides fodder for deer. Squirrels love them. Try putting one or two in your back yard and watch the squirrels go to work.

The "hedge apple" is an aggregate fruit, like the pomegranate, made up of one-seeded druplets. The Osage orange is a member of the Mulberry family. Look at the fruit. It is really a mulberry on steroids.

The wood is tough, and durable. The Osage Indians used the wood for bows, hence the name bois d'arc and bow-wood.

Hedge Row

The original habitat was northern Arkansas and Texas. In the 1930's the trees were planted as living fences -  hedges - along the boundaries of farms to prevent erosion and contain cattle. They can be seen along many country roads and have spread widely from these limited beginnings.

Pick up the fruit and smell deeply, notice the pleasant, orange smell that gives the fruit its name.