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The Essential Osage Orange

A Popular Landscape Tree in Midwestern U.S.

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OOrange_leaves.jpg

Osage-orange fruit with leaves

Steve Nix
Osage_fencerow.jpg

Maclura pomifera in hedge row, Nebraska

Steve Nix
The Essential Osage Orange

Osage Orange fruit and bark

Steve Nix

Introduction:

Osage orange grows to a height of 30 to 40 feet with a spread of 20 to 40 feet. The Osage orange creates a dense canopy, making it useful as a windbreak. Young Osage oranges can develop an upright, pyramidal habit. The large, three to six-inch long by two to three-inch-wide, shiny, dark green leaves turn bright yellow in fall and are quite noticeable in the northeastern United States. The bark is deeply furrowed with an orange tinge. The wood is strong, durable and bright orange in color.

Landscapes in the eastern United States are only marginally enhanced by growing Maclura pomifera. Dry parts of the Midwest embrace the tree for its ability to withstand harsh and dry conditions and a way to grow a quick hedgerow. Horticulturist Mike Dirr says that with "thornless and fruitless forms, this could become a popular landscape tree."

The Osage-orange is native to a small area in eastern Texas, southeastern Oklahoma, and southwestern Arkansas and home of the extent native Osage Indians which gives the tree its common name. Settlers found that the Osage-orange transplanted easily, made great living fence lines and moved into the homesteaded prairies.

Specifics:

Scientific name: Maclura pomifera
Pronunciation: muh-KLOO-ruh poe-MIFF-er-uh
Common name(s): Osage-Orange, Bois-D’Arc, hedge apple
Family: Moraceae
USDA hardiness zones: USDA hardiness zones: 5 through 9A
Origin: native to North America
Uses: windbreaks and reclamation plant; tree has been successfully grown in urban areas where air pollution, poor drainage, compacted soil, and/or drought are common.
Availability: somewhat available, may have to go out of the region to find the tree

Cultivars:

Thornless, fruitless cultivars of Osage orange include ‘Witchita’, White Shield’, and ‘Park’. Propagation of Osage orange can be made by planting seed or making root-cuttings. Young trees are easily transplanted.

Description:

Height: 30 to 40 feet
Spread: 20 to 40 feet
Crown uniformity: irregular outline or silhouette
Crown shape: round; spreading
Crown density: open
Growth rate: fast
Texture: coarse

Leaves:

Leaf arrangement: alternate
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: entire; sinuate; undulate
Leaf shape: lanceolate; oblong; ovate
Leaf venation: pinnate
Leaf type and persistence: deciduous
Leaf blade length: 4 to 8 inches; 2 to 4 inches
Leaf color: green
Fall color: yellow
Fall characteristic: showy

Trunk and Branches:

Trunk/bark/branches: droop as the tree grows, and will require pruning for vehicular or pedestrian clearance beneath the canopy; routinely grown with, or trainable to be grown with, multiple trunks; showy trunk; thorns are present on the trunk or branches. Pruning requirement: requires pruning to develop strong structure.
Breakage: resistant
Current year twig color: brown
Current year twig thickness: thick

Culture:

Light requirement: tree grows in full sun
Soil tolerances: clay; loam; sand; acidic; alkaline; extended flooding; well-drained
Drought tolerance: high
Aerosol salt tolerance: moderate

In Depth:

It is reported that the Osage Indians made their hunting bows from this beautiful and hard wood, and it is also used to make furniture.

From April to June, Osage-Orange puts out its inconspicuous green flowers but these are followed by the very conspicuous fruits. The fruits are four to five-inch-diameter, rough-textured, heavy green balls which ripen to yellow-green and fall in October and November. These fruits are inedible, the juice acid and milky, but squirrels relish the small seeds buried inside the pulp. When the fruits drop, they can be very messy and, for this reason, male, fruitless trees should be selected if you plant this tree.

Osage-Orange is thorny, just like true citrus trees, and forms thickets if left to grow on its own. However, there are thornless cultivars available. Osage-Orange should be grown in full sun on well-drained soil. This tough, native plant can withstand almost anything when established - heat, cold, wind, drought, poor soil, ice storms, vandalism - but appreciates regular watering when young until it is established. As for pests and diseases of Osage orange, there are none of major concern.

Sources:

Fact Sheet ST-368, a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Publication date: October 1994.

Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs, An Illustrated Encyclopedia, Michael A. Dirr, Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.

 

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