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Maclura Pomifera Trees Have Interesting History

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Hedge apples, or Osage Oranges, as some call them have an exotic appearance early in their fruiting stage. Late they become more familiar.

Hedge apples, or Osage Oranges, as some call them have an exotic appearance early in their fruiting stage. Late they become more familiar.

If you’ve driven around the Ozarks during the fall, you have undoubtedly seen a Hedge Apple, Osage-orange or Bois D’arc tree (Maclura pomifera). The fruit often remains on the tree after the leaves have fallen making them easily recognizable. Examples of the tree can be found near the Winter Garden at the Springfield Botanical Gardens.

“The large fruit is around six inches in diameter and looks like a green, wrinkled ball,” says Kelly McGowan, horticulture educator with MU Extension. “The fruit is a favorite of squirrels who do not mind tearing through the tough outer rind to get to the sticky white sap and seeds inside. In residential settings, the fruit can be a nuisance.”

Hedge Apple, aka, Osage Orange

The name “Hedge Apple” comes from the fact that these trees were used before the invention of barbed wire to create a living fence for livestock or windbreaks.

“Hedge apple trees are still often found along fencerows, pastures, and the edges of wooded areas. They are a medium sized, fast growing, thorny tree. The thorny branches have been known to puncture tires,” said McGowan.

This same tree is also known by the name “Osage Orange,” which comes from the Osage Indians who lived in the area where these trees originated. “Orange” comes from the citrusy orange smell of the fruit after it ripens. It is also called the “Bois D’arc” tree because it was used by the Osage Indians to make bows. Even now, this native wood is used for fence posts because of its resistance to rotting over many, many years.

“The wood of the tree is very strong, dense, and resistant to rot and insects. It also makes excellent fence posts and fire wood when dried,” said McGowan.

The Hedge Apple is related to the Mulberry Tree. “If you look closely at the hedge apple fruit, it looks like an overgrown green mulberry,” said McGowan.

McGowan notes that the hedge apple fruit is not poisonous to livestock, but if eaten has been known to become lodged in their esophagus and suffocate them.

In the Ozarks, a large number of Hedge Apple trees remain. Because of residential expansion, these trees are increasingly becoming part of yards and subdivisions prompting calls to MU Extension Centers on how to get rid of them.

Not only are the trees thorny, but the fruits are too large to mow over and have to be picked up by hand.

“If the trees already exist in your yard, the only option may be to cut them down and remove the stumps. However, if you don’t mind picking up the fallen fruit, they can make a lovely shade tree that stands up well to wind and ice. The fruit also makes an interesting plaything and has been enjoyed by kids for generations,” said McGowan.

For more information, contact one of MU Extension’s horticulture specialists or educators in southwest Missouri: Patrick Byers in Greene County at (417) 881-8909, Kelly McGowan in Greene County at (417) 881-8909 or Robert Balek in Jasper County at (417) 358-2158.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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