The Osage orange tree and its fruit are known by many names including horse apple, hedge apple, bodark, Bois d’Arc, bow wood tree and mock-orange.
The Osage orange tree is native to North America. It is a climatic tree of Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas. The tree grows fast and starts to bear fruit at 5-10 years of age, lives 150 years or more, and can reach a height of 9-12 meters. Irrigation is not required as long as the tree receives approximately 18 inches of rainfall per year. It is one of the most insect and disease resistant dioecious tree species in North America. The tree is hardy in drought, high heat, ice and high winds.
The Osage orange tree produces a multiple globular fruit which is about the size of a large orange weighing about one pound, 80 percent of which is water. A tree can produce up to 1,000 pounds (200 pounds dry solids) of fruit. The fruit begins to grow in the spring and falls at the first major freeze. Over time, the fallen fruit softens, dehydrates and begins to turn brown at the surface. The dehydrated fruit remains intact until the heavy rains in the spring. This fruit can be harvested from November to early April. The fruit on the ground lends itself to mechanical harvesting (a prototype harvester is currently being developed). The fruit is gathered and stored under cover until it has ripened and dried.
The seeds contain:
- Seed Oil(biodiesel)
- Protein(animal feed supplement)
- Starch(bioethanol, animal feed)
The seedless mass contains:
- Water Soluble Tannins
- Condensed Tannins(Polymers)
- Minerals (fertilizer)
- Solid Fuels
The Tree’s History
Around 1820, seeds from the Osage orange tree were sold to farmers in areas where there was a limited supply of trees for fences including Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Illinois. The trees were cultivated as hedge rows to define property lines and to hold in livestock. In 1880, Russian Mennonites from Ukraine settled on the prairies of Kansas and introduced the cultivation of winter wheat. They also brought with them the agroforestry practice of establishing windbreaks to conserve soil moisture during the hot, dry and windy summer conditions. Around 1900 with the commercialization of barb wire and the growth of the railroads, Osage orange trees were harvested for fence posts and railroad ties until near extinction. Only recently have the trees slowly returned to the once Texas savannahs. From 1934 to 1942, the US government embarked on the Prairie State Forestry Project, sometimes referred to as the Shelter Belt Project and planted around 200 million trees, many were Osage Orange trees.
- USDA Natural Research Conservation Service- Maclura pomifera (Raf.) C.K. Schneid. Osage-orange
- USDA Plant Fact Sheet (pdf)
- USDA Plant Guide (pdf)