The Shawnee News-Star Wednesday Gardening Oct. 2nd 2019 Becky Emerson Carlberg Amazon offers 12 Hedge Apples, 100% Osage Orange, insect (cockroach) and spider repellent, for $34.99 and free shipping.  Each is hand picked fresh from the tree tops and the order comes with a free pair of garden gloves.  The box weighs about 9 pounds. […]

The Shawnee News-Star Wednesday Gardening Oct. 2nd2019

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Amazon offers 12 Hedge Apples, 100% Osage Orange, insect(cockroach) and spider repellent, for $34.99 and free shipping.  Each is hand picked fresh from the tree topsand the order comes with a free pair of garden gloves.  The box weighs about 9 pounds. Severaltestimonials support the miraculous powers of the Bois d'Arc fruits (Maclurapomifera).  Takes care of the spiderproblems of many, got rid of ants, and is a healthy alternative to toxicproducts if you have kids and pets.  Ibet many of you never realized how valuable this tree could be, other than arelic lurking in pastures dropping giant green balls every autumn.

Entrepreneurship aside, the Bois d'Arc tree is a true nativeof this area.  The original range wasmoist river bottomlands and valleys of eastern Texas, southeast Oklahoma andsouthwest Arkansas.  But wait.  Fossil evidence supports the trees weregrowing in Ontario, Canada and there had been seven different species ofMaclura, not just the one of today. 

The common name Bois d'Arc was used by French trappers.   It means bow wood.  The Osage used the supple stems for archerybows.  Others refer to the tree simply asbodark, bowwood, hedge apple, horse apple, monkey ball tree, mock orange or yellowwood.   The bark and wood is orangish yellow, butthe roots are bright orange.  In CentralOK, many call the tree as Osage Orange which may come from the fact the plantwas in the area of the Osage Indian tribe as well as the color of thewoods.  Although the fruit resembles a greengrapefruit, the tree is not in the citrus family at all but instead a mulberry/fig relative.  The immense collection oftiny lumps is actually a conglomeration of small fruits (drupes) that havefused together into a multiple fruit. Same as with the pineapple, fig and mulberry.

Osage Orange trees can grow from 40 to 65 feet tall, butmost the tree is a spread out canopy and the trunks are rather short.  The wood is very durable, tough, and has along shelf-life which is why early settlers searched out the trees to makefence posts.  In the 1800s fence supplieswere limited and quite expensive.  Hedgerows were even planted to form natural fences. This was buoyed by the fact the Osage Orange forms plentiful suckers andspreads rapidly.  The new shoots andstems have the most wicked thorns, but the tree protects itself all over with smallersharp projectiles.  Thorns are not wimpyprickles (roses) or spines (cacti), but modified branches and stems (think of thecitrus family, hawthorns, honey locust). Thorns themselves may develop branches (more thorns).  In a relatively short period of time animpenetrable barricade will prevent the most daring of animals from crossing.

Plant breeders have been busy.  At least three thornless male trees are onthe nursery market:  'White Shield','Park', and 'Wichita'.  Plug for SunshineNursery in Clinton, OK.  Steve and SherryBierbich sell 'White Shield' Osage Orange. Yes, the Osage orange is dioecious with male and female trees.  Although urban foresters balk at plantingthese trees, only half the females tend to bear the gigantic fruits.  Selling points are fast growth, free ofpests, deep glossy foliage that hangs on even in droughts, leaves turn brightyellow in the autumn and the bark has an orange tinge.  White-tailed deer eat the fruit as will squirrels.  The rodent tears apart the fruit to get tothe seeds, not bothered by the milky sap that can be irritating to humans. 

Connie Barlow studied, ate and wrote about the Osage Orangein her book 'The Ghosts of Evolution.' The tree is missing its Pleistocene partner, an ancient giant sloth,mastodon or wooly mammoth with a mouth large enough to accommodate the Osage Orangefruit.  The seeds were later dispersed asthe animal lumbered along, often being washed downhill.  The mastodons vanished over 11,000 years ago,but the Osage Orange is still here.  Thedomesticated megafauna of today have tried to tackle the fruit.  Cattle will try to swallow it and some havesuffocated.  Not the brightest animals inthe world. Horses bypass the fruit as a rule, finding it too hard andtasteless.  This  according to some humans who must possesstelepathic abilities and can communicate with horses.

They're great trees. Plant one in your yard and wait for a hungry mastodon.