Extension Educator, Local Food Systems and Small Farms
Ok, I know they are not really apples but you do find them every fall around hedge rows. In fact, you may find them in residential areas, golf courses, or down on the farm. These yellow green grapefruit sized fruits are also called hedge balls, horse apples, green brains, monkey balls or mock orange. The hedge tree has several names including Osage Orange (most popular), Bodark (French), or Maclura pomifera (scientific name). Hedge is a cousin of the mulberry tree. Osage Orange is native to a small area centered on the Red River Valley in southern Oklahoma and northern Texas.
Early settlers found Osage Orange to be an extremely useful tree. It is a tough, durable tree, transplants easily, tolerates all types of soil, extreme heat, or strong winds, and has no serious insect or disease issues. It was widely planted as a living fence and after its thorny branches are pruned into a hedge, it was "bull strong, hog tight, and horse high." Early farmers started hedge rows by dumping hedge apples into a barrel and letting them overwinter. In the spring they would mash them and add water to form a slurry. They would then pour the slurry into a plowed furrow and cover with an inch of soil. The distinctive yellow wood is typically used for fence posts, furniture, or archery bows. Dried hedge is highest in BTU's when used as firewood. Green hedge puts on a spectacular light show when burned in a fireplace but since it emits sparks constantly it should be used only in a sealed stove.
Do hedge apples repel insects or mice in homes, garages or basements? This age old question was answered by Iowa State researchers a few years ago. They extracted compounds from hedge apples that were found to repel insects when concentrated. However, the scientists reported that natural concentrations of these compounds in hedge apples were too low to be an effective repellant.
The oldest and biggest Osage Orange tree is found at Patrick Henry's home at Red Hill, Virginia. It has a span of ninety feet and stands fifty-four feet high. The tree is estimated to be 350-400 years old. If you are thinking of planting an Osage Orange tree, think twice. They can spread and become nuisance plants in yards or pastures. The thorny branches make pruning difficult and thorns can flatten tires.