Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Aren't these odd?!  They're the fruit of the Osage Orange tree.  Every year we watch for them to appear on the ground at this singular location just outside the town of Union.  The size of baseballs, they litter the road and squirrels love them!  Usually, there are a few squirrels, too, that got a little too interested in eating and didn't pay attention to the oncoming vehicles. But, not this year.

Mother Earth News for October/November has a piece on "living fences."  The Osage Orange tree, according to MEN, together with its fellows, makes a fence that eventually is "horse-high, bull-strong and hog-tight."  Now that's a fence! 

It's been called by various names:  hedge apple, horse apple, bodark and is named for the Osage tribe of native Americans, and the smell of the ripe fruit which is not edible (it's not poisonous, just unappealing except to squirrels).  And it was widely planted across the Plains states to counter massive soil erosion during the Dust Bowl.  Literally thousands of miles of Osage Orange were planted to provide windbreaks and natural fences.  The tree is tolerant of a wide range of soils, drought resistant, can be started from seed, root cuttings or sprouts from the roots; it has thorns, which is why the "living fence" becomes impermeable.  Each "orange" has about 200 seeds.  Of course, only the female trees bear fruit.  Getting the seeds free of the  fruit is a challenge and takes the better part of a year, working with the hot and cold of nature.  Osage Orange wood is stout!  It makes wonderful fence posts and once harvested,  will grow back in between 10 and 16 years.  The posts are immune to termites and are THE most resistant species of any kind, to rot.  So, they're definitely the farmer's friend. 

For years, MM has wanted to try to sprout the OO.  So, this year, we finally made the effort to stop and gather a few from the roadside and save them from being mashed by the traffic.  He's going to follow the directions in Mother Earth News (thank you Debbi for the magazine which was serendipity!) and see if he can make a living OO fence.

Here's where you can find out more about the Osage Orange:



  1. I've learned so much from your blog, Elora. I've seen those wonderful seed balls before, but didn't know what they were. So interesting to know about the stoutness of the Osage Orange wood---sounds as good or better than locust. Good luck in growing your living hedge!

  2. Hey, Beth!
    So GOOD to hear from you! How are you?! Your comments are like vitamins! Thanks so much! Hoping family is doing well! Do stay in touch!


  3. We have a HUGE OO. I picked up a rotting fruit under a tree at the Biltmore House probaly twenty years ago. I set it on top pf the dirt of a potted plant in our green house and ignored it. I can't remember id it was the following spring or a year later that it sprouted. It spent several years as a potted plant before I put it in the ground. It's now about 15 feet tall and 10 feet wide.

  4. Interesting information about the osage orange. About all I knew before was that it is often found in the crossword puzzles I do. Hope you are successful in growing it.

  5. Hi Elora and MM:

    How nice would it be to have living fences! I did not know that Osage Orange grew around here. I saw a few trees in the mid-west during several visits, but that's about it. I also knew it was a tough windbreak tree and very rot resistant. Let me know how successful you are in growing it from seed. I may want to give it a try myself. Take care.

  6. Vicki! How really cool!!! That's the way I like to plant plants! Stuff and leave! Twenty years later, a tree. What a girl!

    NCMW, glad I could lend a hand with crosswords! BTW, your blog yesterday was simply heart-rending. I simply wanted to cry. Folks, go to yesterday's blog entry on Mountain Musings by NCMountain Woman, and you'll see what I am talking about.
    Thomas, You were just talking about "coppicing" and that very word, which I'd not heard before reading your blog, appeared multiply in Mother Earth News. And BTW, the article in MEN was VERY detailed in how to plant a living fence with OO. Most interesting. It takes the better part of a year just to get the seeds out, though!

    Thank you all for your lovely comments!