Plant for living hedges, rot-resistant fencepost, car fresheners, for repairing degrade land and for making bows, and for its awesome name!
Hardy from Zone 5-9. 20-40 feet tall, same width.
Don’t let the name confuse you: this tree won’t produce orange juice! Oh, and it also has huge sharp thorns, you can’t eat the fruit, and nails bend when you try to hammer them into the wood. But Osage Orange still has a lot going for it, and the large green fruit does smell a little like citrus (though it’s actually a member of the Mulberry family)! Some people suggest keeping a “hedge apple” under the bed to ward off insects. The wood may be too tough for nails, but that toughness makes the yellow-orange wood a very rot-resistant fencepost with the highest BTUs of any fuelwood around. Tough wood and thorns are why Osage Orange was desired as an incredible livestock hedge before barbed wire: plant tightly together, prune to encourage bushy growth, and most animals wouldn’t try to get through a second time.
Osage Orange comes from the Red River watershed of Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas, where some believe giant sloths and mammoths ate the fruit and spread the trees. Most animals now don’t eat the fruit, but we’ve seen goats and cows take a crack at it, and squirrels love the seeds, which supposedly taste a little like sunflower seeds. Its origin in southern watersheds has made it flood-tolerant, but also pretty drought-tolerant too. The Shelterbelt efforts of the New Deal planted it widely to repair damage from erosion and droughts from the Dust Bowl.
The name honors the Osage Nation from the Ohio River Valley. They migrated west to the borders of the tree’s range and made their bows from the strong wood, rivalling Robin Hood’s beloved Yew as the best bow wood. The Comanche also made bows with Osage Orange and cured eye conditions with an infusion from its roots. Some historians believe the wood’s high bow-making value helped build the wealth of the Spiro Caddoans, an early Mississippian culture known for mound building and maize agriculture that controlled the native range of the tree for almost eight hundred years. The cultural descendants of these mound builders, the Caddo Nation and the Wichita, still live in Oklahoma.
We propagate our Osage Orange from the giant fruits we gather at a cooperative cow pasture. You can apparently layer the branches too, but we haven’t tried yet.