Maclura pomifera

Ruth is again responsible for today’s write-up:

Thank you to my good friend Jo Ann Kolman for these “wall paper worthy” photos. She took them in October near Antietam Battlefield in northern Maryland.

My first thought upon seeing this picture was, “Cherimoyas grow in Maryland?”, but as it turns out, I was thinking of the wrong family. Today’s plant is a member of the Moraceae or fig family. Cherimoyas, Annona cherimola, are an edible fruit of the tropical family Annonaceae. We grew them in the rare fruit collection at Quail Botanical Gardens in Encinitas, California.

The osage orange, Maclura pomifera, is a well-loved species originally from the southern United States, specifically western Arkansas, southern Oklahoma and Texas. Apparently, explorers found it and traded the wood for tools and weapon making. The Shawnee, Blackfoot and Wyandotte used the wood to make bow and arrows as well as tomahawk handles for hunting and battle. Later, the wood was used for infrastructure, such as railroad ties, bridge pilings and telephone poles. Because of its usefullness, it is now found throughout the USA (and Ontario) with the exception of a few arid and northern states. Read more about the history of osage orange via the Missouri Conservationist Online.

The small but dangerous thorn that accompanies each leaf was recognized as an asset in using osage orange as a hedge tree or bush. It was the “original barb wire fencing”. Although the fruit is undesirable, the seeds can be pried out of the pithy core and rinsed of their slimy husk to be eaten. Squirrels love them and will shred and destroy the fruits from the tree canopy, so watch your hair when walking under one! The fruits tend to persist on the branches of the female trees well after the leaves have fallen.

Maclura pomifera
Maclura pomifera

26 responses to “Maclura pomifera”

  1. Carol Shelton

    My father placed a log of osage orange in our fireplace and within a few minutes he was dragging it out the door, hot sparks flying everywhere. Be warned!

  2. Karen Newbern

    The fruits are also known as “hedge apples,” and folks in Iowa, Missouri and other states place them in their garage or basement as a natural insect repellent.

  3. Robert Mussey

    The wood is the densest of all tree species in North America, when freshly cut it’s is a bright orange/brown, and with aging oxidizes to a beautiful warm brown. Highly resistant to rot, it used to be used for fenceposts and barn door stoops and cattle and horse floors.
    It was planted in miles-long hedge rows during the CCC days of the Dust Bowl and depression which formed fabulous wild animal and bird cover, but sadly, more and more of it is being cut and bulldozed to make more way for factory farming.
    The first laminated double-recurve bow (as in bow and arrow) was made from thin strips of osage orange.
    In Texas, the vernacular term was “bodark” tree, as in bois d’arc, the french name for “wood of the bow”.

  4. Sue in Bremerton WA

    I loved the write up and the comments of the other readers about this tree. It sounds like a really great tree to have such a history and usefulness, or non-usefullness, in the case of fireplaces.
    Thank you!

  5. Michael F

    Looks like someone forgot to put in an ‘end italics’ code 😉
    Osage-oranges seem to be one of only a small number of plants which use large herbivores as seed dispersers – seems that horses and cattle can both perform the task.

  6. Charles Tubesing

    The wood of Osage orange when used as fuel generates more heat than hickory wood. I think the fruits bear a close resemblance to those of breadfruit. It has been speculated that a reason for the limited natural range of this species is the disappearance of its principal dispersal agent, a member of the Pleistocene “megafauna” such as the mastodon or giant sloth.

  7. Trisha in Texas

    Growing up in Southern Texas I always heard these fruits referred to as crab apples, horse apples or horse crab apples. We used them for “grenades” when playing battle, granted that was nearly 50 yrs ago when we also played cowboys and Indians. They could also substitute for a baseball, once, and it was fun to see just how much of a mess we could make. I only see them rarely now days and it brings back memories of a very carefree childhood. What a wonderful treat!

  8. Beverley

    Maclura pomifera – Z5 – RHS Index of Garden Plants, Griffiths
    Maclura pomifera – Z5-9 – A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants, Brickell, Cole, Zuk
    Maclura ma-kloo-ra. After William Maclure [1763-1840] , American geologist. pomifera pom-i-fe-ra. Apple-bearing, referring to the fruit. Dictionary of Plant Names, Coombes

  9. daniel

    Could I plant those in Oregon (Willamette Valley, zone 8b)? Any idea if a nursery in the area carries them or whether I should try to propagate them from seed? Thank you. danielcuilhe@yahoo.com

  10. Eric Simpson

    Ruth,
    Nice write-up, and… greetings from Encinitas! I didn’t know you had worked at Quail Gardens. I have to remember to keep my hands in my pockets when walking through their rare fruit collection ;-).
    Robert,
    You may be right about the bodark having the densest wood, but there are native species on both the East (Ostrya virginiana) and West (Lyonothamnus floribundus) coasts that have the common name of ironwood. They aren’t true ironwoods, as they float in water, but i’d bet they’d give the osage a run for its money in the density arena.

  11. Mary

    I grew up in the Midwest where my family had a greenhouse/nursery business. A large hedge apple tree grew on the edge of a parking lot. When the hedge apples ripened, the parking area had to be closed off – a falling ripe fruit could easily (and sometimes did) crack a windshield. As of a few years ago, there were still a few old hedge rows remaining in the farming community I grew up.
    Thanks for the photo and write-up!

  12. Connie

    And even though you wouldn’t want to EAT an Osage orange, they smell WONDERFUL- sweet, fresh, green-apple with some lily of the valley overtones…
    When you put one under your bed, it will keep the spiders away. Really! But you won’t recognize it during your spring cleaning because it shrivels up and turns black and you’ll mistake it for something disgusting. But they still work dried out.
    I use them in fruit and/or flower arrangements. They look presentable for about 2 weeks after they fall.
    Their wood is denser; I researched it last fall. I think my info came from the US Forestry webpage.

  13. Renee in Texas

    We always called these barf balls. Not sure why but with six brothers who knows where they get these things. Brings back fun memories of many barf ball fights. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

  14. elizabeth a airhart

    indeed happy thanksgiving -from
    me to you all
    i know i am thankful for this page
    and all the people who comment
    lots of memories this day

  15. Millet

    I have an Osage orange setting right here on my desk. Many farmers in Colorado use the Osage orange tree as wind breaks. Squirrels love the seeds, and therefore make a big mess as they discard all the flesh as they bite there way into the fruit toward finding the seeds. – Millet

  16. phillip

    here… in southeast new mexico…locals call this ‘brainfruit’…and the wood ‘ironwood’…for the strength of the bows made with it…very nice strong tree…
    very nice holiday to you…

  17. Hugh Crowell

    Growing up in central Ohio we used to have an annual osage-orange bowling competition on a paved road lined with the trees – they fit nicely in the hand and you can roll them a very long way.

  18. Daniel

    Anyone in Oregon has it?

  19. Peggy

    Oh, HORSE APPLES! What a memory! Growing up a little south of Tulsa (northeast Oklahoma), we used to bomb each other with these, which grew wild in a huge old forest, an abandoned estate with a “haunted house”! I don’t remember a good smell, though … what I remember is they looked so strange and smelled so strange we never tried to eat ’em!

  20. Martha

    We moved to northeast Oklahoma from California and the back acre of the 2.5 acres we bought with our home, is populated with these trees.
    Neither of us had ever seen them before so the first fall that the ground was covered with hedge apples was quite surprising for us.
    The wood is so hard that it burns up chain saws if you try to trim the tres. Every year the grove drops lots of twigs and branches. Their thorns make gloves required for the task of picking up the litter.
    Every spring, we hang hammocks under the deep shade of their thick canopy

  21. Melanie Kinsey

    In Victoria, Australia there are very few osage oranges around. Several single trees and some old hedges are on the Significant Tree Register. Apparently every autumn the Melbourne herbarium gets lots of people bringing the fruit in for identification!

  22. Dana

    You picked one of my absolute favorite trees! They have a nice round crown and unusual fruit. Way too many people have said, ‘you don’t want a female tree because they are too messy.’They also have thorns. Michael Dirr’s book additionally mentions that the wood makes a good outdoor patio, rustic furniture, and a yellow dye can be extracted from it. A truly wonderful native tree, but the only people that love them are people that don’t have them.

  23. Charles Tubesing

    Maclura is listed by forestfarm in Williams, OR. http://www.forestfarm.com.

  24. Daniel

    Thanks for the info, Charles.

  25. Thomas

    I’m not really sure what my teacher in grade school called them hedge apples ,I think,but she brought some into school one day,sliced and baked,if I remember right they smelt really good,has anyone ever heards of this?

  26. Troy Mullens

    Growing up on a farm in East Texas, my job as a kid was to keep them picked up off of the ground. We had one old milk cow that absolutely loved them. They made the milk taste really bad. It was fun to take one and use it like a baseball and knock more out of the trees.

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