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Harris, J - Osage-orange

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 7 months ago


Osage-orange   (Maclura pomifera)  





                                                                                              Figure 1: Distinctive fruit of Osage-orange





                                  Figure 2:  Picture of rounded crown typical                      Figure 3: Picture of typical twig of Osage-orange

                                                    of Osage-orange

                                                                            (c) 2002 Steven J. Baskauf (http://bioimages.vanderbilt.edu/)  





Bodark, Bodeck, Bois d’arc, Bowwood, Geelhout, Hedge, Hedge Apple, Hedge-plant, Horse Apple, Maclura, Mock Orange, Naranjo Chino, Osage, Osage Apple-tree, Rootwood, Wild Orange, Yellow-wood, (USDA Forest Service) Hedge Ball, Monkey Brain, and Monkey Ball (Wikipedia 2006) are all common names for Osage-orange (Maclura pomifera).  Maclura pomifera (Raf.) C.K. Schneid 1907, is a thorny, dioecious shrub/tree in the mulberry family Moraceae.  This genus is monotypic in North America (Harlow, Harrar, Hardin, and White 1991), with 11 other species of Maclura native to tropical South America and Africa (USDA Forest Service).  Fossil records show that Osage-orange grew as far north as Ontario, Canada before the last glacial event with its fruits (figure 1) eaten and seeds dispersed by extinct large mammals such as the giant tree sloth (Wikipedia 2006), mastodons, and Ice Age horses (NYS Conservationist 2005).   


Osage-orange is a small shade intolerant fast growing deciduous tree averaging approximately 20-30 ft in height (some trees reaching up to 70 ft) with a round spreading crown and 1-2 ft in diameter at the trunk (larger trees up to 6 ft in diameter) (Preston 1989) (figure 2).  The bark of the tree is thin, dark orange-brown, furrowed with flat ridges, and fibrous (Petrides and Wehr 1998).  The stout orange-brown twigs of the Osage-orange are armed with bare half inch to one inch thorns at the leaf scars (Petrides and Wehr 1998) (figure 3). The large fleshy fruit of female trees is very distinctive (figure 1) and easily identifies the tree.  Additionally, the tree produces a milky sap which can be seen when pulling off a leaf, breaking a live twig, and within the flesh of the fruit.  Caution should be taken as the sap may cause a skin rash for some people (Jauron 1997).  



Native Range  

The pre-settlement range of Osage-orange is in the Red River drainage of Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas, and in the Black Prairies, Post Oak Savannahs, and Chisos Mountains of Texas (Burton 1990) (Figure 4). 




Figure 4: Pre-settlement Native Range of Osage-orange (Burton 1990)   



Cultivated Range  

Osage-orange was planted in greater numbers than almost any other tree in North America during the settling of the Great Plains (Burton 1990).  It has been planted in all 48 conterminous states, southern Canada, and even in Hawaii (Starr, Starr, and Loope 2003).  The planted range of Osage-orange, USDA zones 5 through 9A (Gilman and Watson 1994) can be seen in Figure 5. You will find cultivated Osage-orange in Desert and Xeric Shrublands,Temperate Broadleaf &Mixed Forests, Temperate Coniferous Forest, and Temperate Grasslands and Savannas habitat types.




Figure 5: Cultivated Range of Osage-orange (Gilmand and Watson 1994)  




In its natural range, large stands of Osage-orange can cover over 100 acres, but usually grows in small stands sometimes mixed with other hardwoods.  Although it is not included in any of the forest types recognized by the Society of American Foresters, Osage-orange can be found with white oak (Quercus alba), hickories (Carya ssp.), white ash (Fraxinus americana), red mulberry (Morus rubra) in forest stands and invading overgrazed pastures with honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos) (Burton 1990).  The average temperature within the natural range of Osage-orange ranges between 27˚C (80˚F) in July to 6˚ to 7˚ (43˚ to 45˚F) with and extreme of -23˚C (-10˚F) in January; however it is susceptible to winter-kill in northeastern Colorado, and the northern parts of Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois (Burton 1990).  Osage-orange seems to grow on all soil types, including soils to alkaline for most forest trees (Burton 1990), thriving in moist soils and tolerating extreme drought.  It can dominate rich bottomland soils, with its natural distribution depending more on lack of competition than soil quality.  




Osage-orange is a dioecious tree, having separate male and female trees.  The flowers for both sexes appear soon after the leaves in late April and bloom through June (Burton 1990).  The male flowers (figure 6) are an inch to an inch and a half long peduncle axillary racemes located on the leaf spur of the previous season (Burton 1990).  In contrast, the female flowers (figure 7) are an inch in diameter dense globular heads located axillary to the leaves (Burton 1990).  Pollination occurs via wind (Starr, Starr, and Loope 2003).  The female flower will ripen into the large (3 to 6 inch diameter, up to 2 lbs) fleshy fruit of the Osage-orange.  Female flowers that are not pollinated will produce fruit with no seeds (Burton 1990).  Viable seeds are usually produced around the 10th year, with the greatest production occurring between 25 and 75 years of age (Starr, Starr, and Loope 2003).  The tree can also be propagated through cuttings, usually a thornless cultivar, Maclura pomifera var.inermis ( Burton 1990). 






Figure 6: Male flower of the                           Figure 7: Female flower of the Osage-orange


           ((c) 2002 Steven J. Baskauf http://bioimages.vanderbilt.edu/)





The Native American Osage Nation used Osage-orange trees to make bows, traveling hundreds of miles to get the wood (Burton and Barnett 1995).  Because of its strength, Osage-orange is still considered today as the premier wood for bow production, which is why this tree interested me. This small tree with very hard and termite resistant wood played a major role in settling the Great Plains region.  Although Osage-orange does not produce sawtimber, pulpwood, or utility poles, and the wood is difficult to work with, it was a wildly used tree during the 1800s to make wagon wheels (according to a 1911 USDA Forest Service survey ten to twelve thousand wheel rims were being manufactured annually in the U.S) and furniture because it expanded and shrank very little (Burton and Barnett 1995).  Additionally, chips for the tree were crushed and used to make yellow dye.  However, Osage-orange’s greatest utility in the settling of the Great Plains was as low maintenance natural fencing.  Timber for fences was very limited in the region and wire fences had not yet developed enough to make them a viable alternative (Burton and Barnett 1995).   Osage-orange hedges were promoted as the alternative to fencing, being endorsed by several agricultural societies and receiving legislative approval in some States as legal fence (Burton and Barnett 1995).  In Kansas, over 39,400 miles of Osage-orange hedges were planted between the middle of the 1800’s and into the middle 1900’s.  The hedge was clear cut every 10-16 years, producing about 400 fence posts per mile.  New sprouts grew from the stumps rapidly.  Osage-orange was the best option for fencing up until the invention and general availability of barbed wire in the 1880’s.   Many hedge lines were left and have become a part of the ecosystem of the Great Plains with the shaded-killed lower branches providing primarily shelter to prairie birds and small animals.  The fruit attracts squirrels and is also eaten by livestock (Gilman and Watson 1994).    


Today, the tree is used in landscaping and strip mine reclamation as well as many extracts of Osage-orange are used or being developed to be used in food processing, pesticides and dye manufacturing (Burton 1990).   The fruit of the tree is actually used as a home remedy for pest control (Jauron 1997).  Placing the fruit around the foundation or inside a home is claimed to inhibit infestation from cockroaches, spiders, crickets and other pests.  The fruit contains 2, 3, 4, 5-tetrahydroxystilbene, a chemical known to repel such pests (Ball 2000).  




Believed to be a relic from the Ice Age, Osage-orange with its easily identifiable fruit played an important role in the development of the Great Plains.  Economically, Osage-orange hedges aided in agricultural development of the region.  Additionally, as a commodity sold for fencing, Osage-orange became a harvest crop for a short time.  For better or for worse, the widespread planting of Osage-orange as hedge fence (even in Hawaii) altered the ecology of the region, creating hedge line habitats.  The strong pest resistant hardwood has been used for centuries, from bows of the Osage Nation, to fence post, wagon wheels, and furniture by settlers.  Even today, research on the extracts of Osage-orange continues.  Osage-orange has a long history from being a forage tree of the giant tree sloth to being a model for the invention of barbed wire, and may hold even more uses with in its bark.






BALL, J. 2000.  The Versatile Osage-Orange.  American Forests, Vol.106, Issue                        3, p60-63.




BASKAUF, S. J., 2002. Images http://bioimages.vanderbilt.edu/




BURTON, J.D. 1990.  Maclura pomifera (Raf.) Schnied.  Osage-orange. Silvics of North America: Volume 2.  U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington D.C.




BURTON, J.D. and BARNETT, J.1995.  Osage-Orange: A Small Tree with a Big Role in Developing the Plains.  Research Paper SO-285. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, New Orleans, Louisiana.




GILMAN, E.F., and Watson, D.G. 1994.  Fact Sheet ST-368. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington D.C.




HARLOW, W.M., HARRA, E. S., HARDIN, J.W., and WHITE, F.M. 1991.  Textbook of Dendrology, McGraw-Hill, Inc., New York, New York.




JAURON, R. 1997.  Facts and Myths Associated with “Hedge Apple”.  Horticulture and Home Pest News.  October 10, 1997, p143.




NYS CONSERVATIONIST, 2005.  Osage-Orange: Tree Out of Time.  New York Consercationist, Dec 2005, Vol. 60, Issue 3, p10.




PETRIDES, G.A., WEHR, J. 1998.  Peterson Field Guides: Eastern Trees.  Houghton Mifflin Co., New York, NY.




PRESTON Jr, R.J.,1989.North American Trees Fourth Edition. Iowa State Univeristy Press.




STARR, F. STARR, K., and LOOPE, L. 2003.  Maclura pomifera Osage orange, Moraceae.  U.S. Geological Survey – Biological Resources Division, Haleakala Field Station, Maui, Hawaii.




USDA Forest Service Technology Transfer Fact Sheet, Center for Wood Anatomy Research, Madison WI.




Wikipedia 2006.  Osage-orange.  http//:en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maclura_pomifera













































































































































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