The Osage-orange (Maclura pomifera) or the hedge apple or horse apple as it is also known is a medium sized deciduous tree that grows to the height of 40 to 60 feet tall. The younger twigs have ½ inch thorns growing along its length. The hedge apple is dioecious with male and female flowers on different trees. The tree produces non-edible green fruit that are 4-5 inches in diameter with a rough texture (green brains). The fruit and stems excrete a sticky, milky fluid that can irritate the skin.
The native habitat was a small range of eastern Texas, Southeastern Oklahoma, and Southwestern Arkansas, the same area where the Osage Nation was found. Today the hardy plant is found throughout the United States. The tree is known as Bodark, Bois d’ arc and Bow wood in its natural range because of the early use in making bows.
The hedge apple is very dense hard wood that is very rot resistant. These properties made it very popular for rail ties and fence posts. Straight grained branches make great bows and it’s yellow wood is considered an exotic wood for woodworking. A yellow dye made from the wood is a sought after natural dye. Dried wood is great for burning for heating having the highest btu rating for wood(don’t burn in an open fireplace although it tends to spark a lot). The “apple” has a long folk history of being used around the house to repel pests and it is a source of food for squirrels in the winter. They rip open the apples and eat the seed.
The hedge apple was used before barbwire as a living fence. Today hedge rows are making a comeback on modern homesteads. They create wind breaks, prevent soil erosion, provide habitat for small game and birds, and can create microclimates and contribute to biodiversity. These hedge rows can be made with a number of plants besides Osage-orange. Hawthorns, Black Locust (a nitrogen fixer), Honey Locusts, and Roses could also be used. Planting the trees with a spacing of one foot will produce a solid hedge in 3 to 5 years. After the first year tie the shoot over to the next one. As the hedge grows keep weaving the branches to produce an impermeable hedge. The tree can grow 3 to 6 feet a year and can reach the height of 40 to 60 feet so regular pruning is needed to keep the hedge manageable.