PO Box 2458, Tijeras NM 87059

Mountain Gardens--finding success with plants for the high desert and East Mountains of New Mexico

Monday, March 19, 2012

Osage Orange

Anna gave us an Osage Orange fruit a few months ago. I disassembled it a few weeks ago, and now I'm plucking out all the seedlings...

When I was a girl in western Kentucky, the girls would chuck these fruits at the boys (back then boys weren't allowed to hit back). The Osage Orange fruit is apple-sized, round, and hard as a rock. As we were all between 6 and 10 years old, we didn't do much damage (despite playing baseball all summer, we all "threw like girls"). But the fruit had a faintly citrusy fragrance (try saying that three times), and the tree itself was big and shady.

Taking the ball apart and extracting the seed was messy and took a couple of hours. But we got about a cup of seed. We soaked it for three days, then I planted all the seed, and put it on the heat mats (my directions suggested the germination might be low), and all the seed came up! I've plucked several times now. But more is always better. Seedlings don't often all survive--mice, weather, insects, human error--I planted wafer ash and only have about fifteen seedlings now.
I'm guessing we'll have a couple of hundred osage. I've got five flats plus what's still in the plug trays!

Nostalgia aside, why do I want Osage Orange trees anyway? The maclura pomifera is a long-lived, decidous tree that can reach 60 feet, with an 80 foot canopy spread (though probably not under our conditions). It's hardy in zones 4-9, is drought tolerant, and isn't fussy about soil. It's a native to the prairie states, but is found from coast to coast.

The Osage Indians prized its flexible, yellow wood for bows hence two of its names--the second, bodark, comes from the French, boi d' arc, another reference to bows. In the 1800's many thousands were planted for hedge rows (hence the third name--hedge apple) because it grew quickly, was very thorny when young, and could be heavily pruned. The very rot resistant wood was also used for fences. The males are less thorny and are used more today, but those amazing fruit only come from the female.

The fruit is attractive--mine sat on the window sill for months before losing its lime green color. The seeds are edible (you really have to want it), and attract squirrels (now that's the only downside for me). And a nice big pile of them would be great for chucking at bulls browsing through my greenhouse!

Visit the links below for more great information, and pictures of the fruit and mature tree.


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