The Osage Orange Tree: Useful and Historically Significant

The Osage orange tree, once a favorite of American settlers, deserves a look from modern-day homesteaders.

| March/April 1985

  • Osage Orange Fruit
    Though the Osage orange tree is incredibly useful for fencing, its fruit is inedible and can irritate the skin.
    PHOTO: FOTOLIA/SERHIY SHULLYE
  • 092-121-01
    A fence made with Osage orange is basically a "fence that builds itself"!
    DAVE WAYMAN

  • Osage Orange Fruit
  • 092-121-01

"Good fences make good neighbors," wrote poet Robert Frost. But what, exactly, makes a good fence?

If you've ever had the dubious pleasure of putting a fence up — of cutting, splitting and setting posts and stretching wire — you just might answer, "A fence that builds itself." And since you're fantasizing, you might add, "...and takes care of itself, too."

Well, believe it or not, there is such a fence. Chances are you've seen one while driving along rural roads and looking out over neat hedgerow-lined fields. During the latter half of the nineteenth century and the first few decades of this one — up until the time barbed wire became widely available and inexpensive — settlers and farmers throughout much of the eastern half of the United States planted their fences.

More often than not, the tree they used was the Osage orange tree, sometimes also called prairie hedge, hedge apple, horse apple, bowwood or yellow-wood. Most folks today, though, know it only for its distinctly ugly, almost otherworldly-looking fruit: an inedible, fleshy green orb the size of a grapefruit or large orange, with a warty, furrowed surface sparsely covered with long, coarse hairs. When you break the globe open, it exudes a bitter, milky, sticky sap that eventually turns black and that gives some people an irritating rash.



But beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder, and any homesteader who places greater value on usefulness than on appearance will find much to admire in the Osage orange.

The Extraordinary Osage Orange Tree

Osage (Maclura pomifera) is the sole surviving member of the genus Maclura — of its many relatives from past geologic eras, only fossils remain. It is also, however, a member of the family Moraceae, which encompasses the mulberries and the figs, as well as a large number of tropical and semitropical trees.

Psnowflake
10/12/2018 5:34:38 PM

no chris...i think you are thinking of black walnuts.. could be the osage orange tree too. never heard of it. https://bushcraftusa.com/forum/threads/fishing-with-black-walnuts.4558/


Rainydaywoman
9/21/2018 12:54:39 PM

This is the passage from Robert Frost's poem, Mending Wall correctly stated on this site. Alas, Mr. Frosts' rest was not disturbed: "He is all pine and I am apple orchard. My apple trees will never get across And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him. He only says, "Good fences make good neighbours."


Hovawart
6/26/2018 11:27:08 PM

Poor Robert Frost! You got his message exactly backwards! The poor man must be rolling in his grave.






Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

Money-Saving Tips in Every Issue!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).


Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters