Osage Orange Tree

Maclura pomifera

Adventure with the Osage Orange Tree!

The Osage Orange Tree (also called Bodock, Bodarc, and Hedge Apple) I found at the Nashville Zoo surprised me! I don’t think I would have noticed the tree at all—tucked back behind a stand of bamboo—but the wrinkly, greenish yellow, brain-looking Hedge Apples were practically a hazard along the path. Looking up to find the tree, the heavy, soft-ball sized fruits weigh the branches to drooping before they fall with a big thud. They feel spongy enough to bounce, but they don’t bounce well. Tearing the fruit open is a little tough because it is fibrous and stringy, and they produce a milky juice which (I found out later) can give you an itchy rash. It has a faint orange smell to it, hence the name.

The seeds (which are the only edible part of the tree, though the rest is not poisonous) are covered in a slippery husk. If you are so inclined  you can dig them out of the spongy mess, un-husk, and feast away.

Crawling behind the bamboo, I found branches with short thorns and oval-shaped leaves that come to a sharp point. Some leaves had changed to yellow. I didn’t collect any leaves for my journal because zoo people were giving me the stink-eye. It’s a totally climbable tree, but the thorns are really tough, so watch out.

Where does Osage Orange come from?

It is native to North Texas, Southeast Oklahoma, and Arkansas, and is named after the Osage Indians. Now you can a find it all over the eastern US, even in the Africa section of the Nashville Zoo!

History of Use

  1. It was planted to make cattle fences before the barbed wire boom in 1874. It was pruned “horse high, bull strong, and hog tight” to keep horses from jumping over, bulls from trudging through, and hogs from wiggling in.
  2. Hedge Apples are thought to be an insect, spider, and mouse repellent if left in an area while still green. Many people swear by them.
  3. It has been used for primitive archery bows because of it’s strength, and the colloquial names Bodock or Bodarc come from the French bois d’arc, meaning bow.
  4. The dried wood yields the highest BTUs when burned as firewood. It’s “the closest to a piece of coal as you can get.”
  5. The wood is used to make musical instruments, artwork, and fancy pens because of its pretty yellow color.
  6. Boiling the wood chips yields yellow dye.
  7. The bark yields tannin.

More Fun Stuff

  • Burning the Hedge Apples makes all kinds of sparks and crackles, like a little fireworks display.
  • Osage Oranges are in the Mulberry Family (Moraceae). Most of them have milky sap like the Hedge Apple, but the bumelias and the Hedge Apple are the only thorny trees with milky sap in the Eastern US.
  • It is dioecius (having male and female plants), and you only get the Hedge Apples on the female tree.
  • The bark is orange-brown with tight furrows.
  • Hedge Apples have a lot of great nicknames that are incorrect. Here are the ones I could find: Hedge Balls, Horse Balls, Green Brains, Monkey Balls, and Mock Orange.

What else is cool about Osage Oranges?

Feel free to share your own Osage Orange Adventure. Has anyone tasted the seeds? What happens if you boil them? Does anyone have a Hedge Apple fence I could visit? Want to have an apple war?

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Written by Haley Nelson

I'm a science writer, filmmaker and host for Untamed Science. If it's quirky or adventurous science, I'm all over it. While my past study species have included bryophytes and leeches, my current passions are in the white squirrel phenomenon, trees, and earth science. I'm also married to Stone Age Man.

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