The Osage Orange

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The fruit of the Osage Tree is sometimes called a Horse-Apple, Hedge Apple, Monkey Brains and more fittingly Osage Orange. The tree was named after the Osage Indians that lived in the Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas area. The tribe
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gave up it’s land to the U.S. between 1808 and 1870. After the tribe moved, oil was later found on their lands. They did receive shares of the money earned from the oil.

The reasons for the odd names of the fruit are not that hard to imagine. They do have a slight citrus smell like an orange. Horses love to eat the fruit although it is not edible by humans.

The bright green and bumpy fruit also has a beaded look and feel which I’m sure brought on the name, Monkey Brain. I have never seen the brain of a monkey but I think this is just more of a humorous description of the odd looking fruit.

Once broken open you can see that the beads are actually tops of little seed pods. There are hundreds of seeds attached to wing-like pieces that help distribute the seeds. Once dry, the seeds are picked up by the wind and blown all over the country side.

The tree itself is a hard, twisty wood with long, sharp thorns all over the trunk and limbs. The tree can be allowed to grow tall, up to about 30 feet, or kept cut back to create a strong, thorny hedge. The tree is a part of the Mulberry family.

Early settlers planted the Osage as a hedge or “living fence” to keep in cattle like we would use barbed wire today. They would also mill the trees into lumber and make fences for the same reason. The wood from the trees was also used for fence posts, arrows and wagon wheels.

Although the fruit is not edible by humans it is also not poisonous. Yellow dye is made by boiling chips of the wood. My wife and I are researching to see if a tea can be made from the fruit or leaves. It should have a mild citrus flavor and if successful we could sell it locally. I will have to let everyone know how that turns out if my wife doesn’t kill me as her Guinea Pig. Right now the only part of the plant that is slightly edible are the seeds.

I have thrown several of the baseball sized fruit out in our yard in the fall and found that the seeds sprouted by next fall but I have yet to really get a good hedge going. But that is another project. There is not much more written about this strange fruit and tree which intrigues me
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to do more research each year.

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