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Why would I want on of those?

October 30, 2016
Kevin Williams - Grundy County Conservation Director , Reinbeck Courier

I spent the weekend over in East Peoria, Illinois. We have made this trip for the last several years always near the end of October. There is a stretch of highway that I look forward to seeing because of the numerous Osage-orange trees that I get to see.

The leaves are beginning to fall allowing easy sighting of the large green fruits on the trees. Female trees produce 3 to 5 inch diameter fruit which ripen in September or October and fall to the ground. I suppose I look forward to seeing them on this trip because they bring back childhood memories.

I spent many exciting fall afternoons hunting the covey of quail that could always be found somewhere along the "hedge apple" row on the fence line of my Uncle Frank's back-forty. Hedge apple is what I grew up calling them,

or hedge balls are another nickname. Another common name for this tree, bodark, is from the French bios d'arc meaning "bow wood" because it has long been used to make archery bows. In fact, many archers consider the wood of the Osage-orange to be the world's finest wood for bows.

I knew the wood for its use on my grandfather, Roy Warrick's farm. The boundary fences had these very hard, even sometimes spindly fenceposts. The tops of some posts seemed no larger than my grandfather's thumb and almost always crooked. The wood was used for fenceposts because it was/is extremely hard, heavy, durable and shrinks or swells little compared to the wood of other trees.

I remember my grandfather telling me that his father put the fence in originally. What I remember most about it is that when I helped him make fence, you could not drive a staple into the post. I was told that the posts went in green so that they could be successfully stapled. From then on, you had to wire the fence back to the post if that was required.

The Osage-orange is native to a small area in eastern Texas, southeastern Oklahoma and southwestern Arkansas. This region is the home of the Osage Indians which gives the tree its common name. Settlers found that the Osage-orange transplanted easily, tolerated poor soils, extreme heat, and strong winds and had no serious insect or disease problems. It was widely planted in the Midwest as a living fence because, when pruned into a hedge, it provided an impenetrable barrier to livestock.

And when cut into fenceposts, they lasted darned near forever.

The Osage-orange is a small to medium-sized tree, having a short trunk and a rounded or irregular crown. The twigs are buff to orange-brown and are armed with one-half inch long spines. The stems exude a milky sap when cut. The Osage-orange is dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers are produced on separate trees. The small, green flowers appear in May or June.

I also remember hearing that the fruits of the Osage-orange could be used for insect control. It has long been claimed that placing hedge apples around the foundation or inside the basement will repel or control insects. A few years ago, Iowa State University toxicologists extracted compounds from hedge apples. When concentrated, these compounds were found to repel insects.

But unfortunately scientists also found that natural concentrations of these compounds in the fruit were too low to be an effective repellent. So, don't be fooled into spending much to use hedge apples as an insect repellent.

If you decide to pick hedge apples to check out the repellency yourself or to use the fruit as a fall decoration, it would be wise to wear gloves. I'm told that the milky juice present in the stems and fruit of the Osage-orange can irritate the skin. I've not found that to be the case with me. And I handled them recently. You see, I pulled the car over this weekend and gathered up a few of those hedge apples, put them into the car, and brought them home with me.

Why you might ask? I'm going to try propagating a few for the corner of my yard. The fruit of the Osage-orange is a nuisance in the home landscape and the fruits are not an important source of food for wildlife as most birds and animals find the fruit unpalatable.

I guess I just want a couple (I'll need a male and a female) to have the memories of childhood. I may even take a trip down to my grandfather's old farm and see if there is still a hedge post that could find its way to my house, too.




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