Osage hedge balls, the fruit that grows on the Osage-orange tree, are also commonly referred to as hedge apples due to their similarity in size to an apple and the fact that the tree is commonly utilized as a hedge specimen. Aside from ornamental purposes, the fruit has few uses.
A popular misconception is that Osage hedge balls are an effective way to repel insects. While it is true that large amounts of concentrated compounds extracted from the fruit seem to discourage the presence of insects, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln suggests that that evidence is misleading. The school cites research that discovered that simply placing a large number of hedge apples in a specific location did not provide enough of those compounds to keep insects at bay.
Hedge apples possess little value as a food source to humans although squirrels are active consumers of the fruit, expending much effort to pick out the seeds within the Osage hedge balls. Humans may also eat these seeds, but picking them from the pulp requires a huge amount of work for very little bounty. Birds also tend to ignore the hedge apple. Cattle should be discouraged from browsing hedge apples as they often choke when attempting to eat the fruit whole.
Humans should wear gloves and be careful when handling the balls, as the milky juice present in the stem and flesh often irritates the skin. The relative uselessness of Osage hedge balls is compounded by the fact that the fruit is largely considered a nuisance in a landscape environment due to the excessive amount of litter that the hedge apples produce when they fall to the ground. This dropping from the tree in autumn encourages the use of the balls for fall decoration.
A lumpy ball that grows up to 6 inches in diameter, the chief use for Osage hedge balls is as a decorative piece that also provides a pleasant scent similar to that of an orange peel. The hedge apple normally retains freshness for between two and three months in an air-conditioned environment before aging and losing its scent. Gardeners interested in growing an Osage orange tree should keep in mind that trees are either male or female and only females produce fruit.