October is a great month. Fall is in full swing, trees are changing colors, and harvest has begun across the Great Plains. For the October plant of the month, I chose a plant with unique and interesting fruit that is used for many different things; Hedge apple.
Hedge Apple, Maclura pomifera, is also called Osage Orange, hedge, and an assortment of other names. This small tree grows up to 30-40 feet tall and wide. It has very dense, yellow to bright orange wood and thorns that are ½ inch in length. The leaves are alternate, simple, have no teeth on their edges, and have a pointed tip. The flowers are inconspicuous and appear from April to June. The unique fruits appear in fall as large, soft-ball sized, green balls that are wrinkled over the entire outside of the fruit.
Osage Orange is a great tree, but many people don’t want to deal with the thorns or picking up the fruits. Maclura pomifera var. inermis is a thornless selection of the osage orange. There are also thornless varieties available that are male to avoid fruit. These include ‘Witchita’, ‘White Shield’, ‘White Sword’, and ‘Park’, according to Illinois Extension.
Hedge trees are sometimes considered a weedy tree species because they are adaptable to many conditions and spread easily. They are in the same family as mulberry trees and therefore fast growing. This tree species will tolerate high pH, drought, and extreme sites. It does best in full sun to be used as a windbreak or in a barrier tree row.
Many people will purchase hedge apples for use in decorating or as an insect deterrent. However, hedge apples will not work as a deterrent for insects in your home. The research was based on using concentrated oils from the fruit to deter insects. The concentrated compounds worked to repel insects, but the concentrations within a fruit are too low to be effective in your home. You can still purchase hedge apples to use as a decoration, but don’t spend too much on them for insect or spider control. However, rather than purchasing them, save some money and go outdoors to find them.
Hedge apples are great trees to use on an acreage. Because of the strength of the tree and the thorns, this tree has been used as a living fence. It is also a great habitat for wildlife such as birds. The strength of the wood made it useful for making wheel rims for horse drawn wagons, mine support timbers, and other things because the wood is decay resistant, according to the USDA-NRCS Plant Factsheet. The USDA also states the French began calling this tree Bois d’Arc which means ‘wood of the bow’, because Osage Indians made bows from the wood.
Osage Orange may not be the preferred choice for a specimen plant in your landscape, but it is a great selection for windbreaks and fencerows. This tree provides habitat for wildlife and is a sturdy choice for woodworking. So, as you continue to rebuild your windbreaks from loss of trees to age and disease, look to Osage Orange to finish off the windbreak after the evergreen trees. The photo of the Hedge apple tree row above is from John D. Byrd, Mississippi State University, Bugwood.org.