Osage Orange

The Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) also known as “hedge-apple” is a small, deciduous tree with simple alternate leaves, twisted branches and a wide spreading profile.

Bark from Osage Orange Tree

Credit: frederick.forestryboard.org - David Barrow

The bark and roots of the Osage orange has an orange tint, and the branches have large, singular spines. Freshly cut wood is bright yellow and is very dense, heavy, and hard, much like black locust. The fruit of the Osage orange is its most distinguishing characteristic, with a large, circular shape about the size of a softball. The fruit, leaves, and sap of the tree contain a sticky, milky, substance called “latex,” which is used in the production of rubber. Osage oranges prefer deep fertile soils, and they are often found in dense groves around larger stream corridors, especially Catoctin Creek. Where this occurs the associated ground cover is very sparse, creating ideal locations for birds, especially the woodcock to forage for earthworms. Osage orange can tolerate a variety of conditions and has been widely planted in wind rows throughout the Midwest.

Osage Orange Fruit

Credit: frederick.forestryboard.org - Mike Kay

Osage orange is native to the southwest and Midwestern states, but it has been naturalized throughout most of the county. This tree got its name from the Osage Indian tribe that revered the wood of the tree for bow making as well as the faint scent of orange in its fruit. The pliable, dense, waterproof, and rot resistant wood became prized for shipbuilding and it was widely used for this purpose, especially for the “long boats” that were used to navigate the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Osage orange was widely planted in shelterbelts following the dust storms of the 1930’s; this dense, thorny plant made great natural fences for livestock.

Article by FCFCDB member

Nature Note for 9/25/2021