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The Osage Orange is an interesting but inedible fruit | Pamdemonium
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RF: Osage can you see?

October 10, 2010

The Osage Orange, up close

Random Fact is fairly certain a culinary use for the Osage Orange would go a long way toward solving if not world hunger at least large pockets of hunger in the U.S.

Alas, apparently only the seeds are edible and only squirrels have the determination to get at them. They bulky fruit itself is not poisonous but can choke livestock.

These yellow-green orbs first caught my eye in rural Tennessee, and I was fascinated. To me, they resemble lost, though nicely rounded, bits of brain coral or some sort of alien pod. It will surprise no one that my secret vote is for the alien pod.

A bit of research revealed plenty of random facts though few actual uses for these balls, which reach six inches in diameter and add an interesting dimension to our Middle Tennessee landscape.

  • The tree is named for the Osage Indians, natives of areas that now include Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas.
  • The scientific name is Maclura pomifera, which helps explain another name for the tree and its fruit – the Hedgeapple. In Texas, Bodark is commonly used to identify the same tree. Other oft-used though less accurate names include Horse Apple, Hedge Ball and Mock Orange.
  • The skin of the fruit does have a citrus-like smell.
  • Some farming folk put the fallen fruit in cupboard to repel insects. The “oranges” do contain a chemical that helps repel some pests but like all fruit, they have a shelf life of their own and break down.
  • The wood itself is very, very strong, and the Osage used it to make bows. Today, craftspeople transform it into musical instruments, including harps, and one company makes fancy pens from Osage.

    Interesting but inedible.

Historically, the Osage Orange was planted to create a natural hedge. Grown close together, Osage Orange trees covered thousands of miles, marking farms and property lines. Pruning helped branches weave together and form a tough barrier that prompted one description of these natural fences: “Horse high, bull strong and hog tight.”

The invention of barbed wire in the 1880s allowed farmers and ranchers to build fences without waiting for trees to grow, but the Osage still makes a damn sturdy post.

The fruit is not as sturdy, though I’ve heard shellacking keeps them around a bit longer than usual. My goal is modest—I’d like my big basket full of these green monsters to last through the holidays.

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