Osage orange, known botanically as Maclura pomifera, is a small to mid-size flowering and fruiting deciduous tree that is native to eastern Texas. The fruit of the Osage orange is inedible for humans and of little interest to animals due to its milky sap.
In Texas, Osage orange is naturalized, but it is also widely planted as windbreaks and living livestock fencing, as its thorns make it impenetrable to wandering animals. Osage orange also goes by the common names hedge apple, bois d'arc and bow wood.
Site & Soil Adaptability
Osage orange is native to the nutrient-rich limestone and clay soil found in the bright sunlit prairies of Texas. It thrives in the roughly 35 inches of rain every year found in those prairies but is highly adaptive to nutrient-poor soil and considerably less natural rainfall or irrigation.
Tree Form & Habit
Osage orange is a mid-size tree reaching up to 40 feet in height and crown spread at maturity. The branches, which range from beige to orange, sprout 1/2-inch thorns typical of citrus cultivars, making a protected habitat for small wildlife. The tree canopy knit together to become intertwined, matted and difficult to penetrate. The dark green leaves turn yellow in the fall before being shed to the ground. The trunk and branch wood is an orange hue and is hard-wearing enough to be used for wooden bows used to shoot arrows--hence one of its common names, bow wood.
Flowers & Fruit
Osage orange trees produce either male or female flowers in the late spring or early summer and the female trees produce the green fruit thereafter in the fall. The flowers are pale green in hue and the fruit are tennis-ball-sized and come in a rich lime green hue with a nubby skin texture. When ripe, the fruit fall to the ground. The flower stems, fruit stems and fruit itself all produce a white milk-like sap when cut or plucked, which can be irritating when it comes into contact with the skin.