by Jill K. McDonald
Scattered along roadsides and the edges of fields, large green orbs the size of grapefruits can be observed with a watchful eye. The surface appears interestingly wrinkly and bumpy. They stand out vividly among bare autumn trees, though only the female trees produce fruit. When cut open, the sap is sticky and white and there can be up to 200 small seeds! This is the Osage orange tree.
Named after the Osage Indian tribe of its native region, this tree grew primarily in parts of Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas. The latter part of the tree’s name is due to the orange aroma of the skin after it’s ripe, as well as the orange color of the bark, roots, and wood.
This unique tree goes by many names including hedge apple and bow-wood, which Native Americans used the wood to make bows. Early pioneers discovered the tree’s great strength, durability, and rot-resistance. It was used for the hubs and rims of farm, chuck, and covered wagons. Eventually it was harvested for fence posts and railroad ties.
During the mid-1800s, Osage orange trees were planted to create field borders for cattle. It made a great hedge, hence the name hedge apple. It was easily propagated from seed, grew fast, and had thick, thorny branches. According to www.motherearthnews.com, “It was “horse-high, bull-strong and pig-tight.” As a result, Osage hedges were planted far beyond their original range, including the Midwest.
Today, Osage orange trees still remains a valuable resource. Besides fence posts, it is used by woodworkers and for natural dyes, as well as great windbreaks and animal cover. Squirrels relish the seeds. As for human consumption, many websites say they are not edible. According to www.eattheweeds.com it states, “In all fairness, not all of the fruit is edible. Only the seeds are.” As with any wild food, do your own thorough research before consumption of anything.
For further information and enjoyment check out:
USDA Plant Fact Sheet: http://plants.usda.gov/factsheet/pdf/fs_mapo.pdf.
Jill K. McDonald is a freelance nature & travel educator, writer, photographer, and speaker. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with her on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/naturetravelerjillmcdonald.