November 2, 2015
by Andrea Fick
This week’s tree is the Osage orange (Maclura pomifera). This small deciduous tree grows best in full sunlight and can reach heights of about 30 to 40 feet tall. It has a short trunk and outward branches that form a low, dense rounded crown. Young twigs have green bark while older bark is orange-brown with deep furrows. Twigs of this tree are often thorny, but there are thornless varieties. Due to its natural form, Osage orange is often used as a hedge plant. It was used as a living fence before the invention of barbed wire.
Osage orange is part of the Moraceae, or mulberry family. It is dioecious, meaning there are male and female trees. Female trees produce a green, bumpy fruit resembling the size and shape of an orange. The fruit are referred to as hedge balls or Osage orange balls. Squirrels like to eat the fruit of the Osage orange. The fruit is also sold as a way to repel insects, however there are debates as to whether it is effective or not. Osage orange also goes by various other names including hedge-apple, horse apple, and bodock.
We currently have some young Osage Orange trees growing in the nursery. These trees came from hedge balls picked from trees located along an old fence line separating two beef cattle pastures near Pleasantville, Iowa. We expect to get more seedlings in from this source. Osage orange grows in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 through 9 and can adapt to various soil conditions.