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Osage Orange Tree (Maclura Pomifera)
Actual and Potential Uses
Note: Osage Orange is not recommended for Europe. It's invasive to the Mediterranean climate found in Spain and Italy. It's not recommended for Hawaii.
Osage Orange, also known as "bodark" is a small tree in the mulberry family with a legendary reputation among bowyers as the world's best bow-wood. Originally it's natural range was limited to the Red River of Oklahoma and Texas inhabited by the Osage Indians. Osage bow-wood was highly valued as a trade commodity among the American Indians.
Growing zones 5-9 in full sun.
Within the natural range of Osage-orange, average annual temperature ranges from about 18° to 21° C (65° to 70° F), July temperature averages 27° C (80° F) and January temperature ranges from 6° to 7° C (43° to 45° F) with an extreme of -23° C (-10° F). The frost-free period averages 240 days. Average annual precipitation ranges from 1020 to 1140 mm (40 to 45 in), and April to September rainfall from 430 to 630 mm (17 to 25 in).
Seeds need to stratify at 1° to 6°C (33° to 43°F) for at least one month before they will germinate. This can be done in the refrigerator, or by planting them in the ground for the winter.
Osage-orange has been planted as a hedge in all the 48 conterminous States and in southeastern Canada. The commercial range includes most of the country east of the Rocky Mountains, south of the Platte River and the Great Lakes, excluding the Appalachian Mountains. It's hardy as far north as Massachusetts but succumbs to winter-kill in northeastern Colorado and the northern parts of Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois.
The map link provided below shows the states where osage orange has bee reported (dark green) and counties where the species has been sited (lighter shades of green):
Uses for Osage Orange Trees
Experienced bowyers consider osage the best bow-wood in the world. Al Herrin, a native Cherokee bowyer, prefers it above all others because of it's density, ruggedness, and longevity. Though simple in appearance, a one-piece osage-bow is a deadly weapon. It's very capable for taking down deer, wild hogs, and other large game.
Osage-orange wood has other practical uses as well. Osage fence-posts are reported to last 50 to 100 years. Osage-orange heartwood is the most decay-resistant of all North American timbers and is immune to termites.
Untrained trees will grow a tangled masses of branches that make an excellent ground cover for wild-life and its fast-growing habit is useful for erosion control. In prairie-regions osage-orange provides valuable cover and nesting sites for quail, pheasant, other birds, and animals.
A "living-fence" of osage-seedlings quickly grows into a thorny-barrier that livestock, deer, and even wild boars can't penetrate. American pioneers used it for that purpose.
In the 1840s, prior to the invention of barbed-wire, a bushel of osage-orange "fruits" known as "hedge-apples" sold for a much as $50 in the U.S. Hedge-apples are about the size of grapefruits and smell like citrus but they're inedible.
The trees are fast-growing and should be pruned and trained for the desired result, whether it's bow-wood, fence-post wood, or a contemporary decoration such as a bonsai tree.
The wood is beautiful but it is very hard to cut. It can be crafted into rugged knife and tool handles. A yellow pigment extracted from the wood is used to dye khaki military uniforms.
More information on the art of bow-making and useful bow-woods can be found at this web-page: Bow-Making Resources