What is an Osage Orange?

Osage orange fruits can be effective in repelling cockroaches.

Osage oranges are members of the mulberry family, meaning they are not true oranges. The fruit produced by these trees looks like an orange, especially from a distance, but it is not edible. Although their fruits cannot be eaten, osage orange trees have many uses and can be found throughout the southern and midwestern United States. Some garden supply stores sell Osage seedlings for people who want to plant these distinctive ornamental trees.

Osage oranges are native to Texas and Arkansas.

The Osage orange is apparently native to Texas and Arkansas, where the trees were cut down for their useful wood by Native Americans for centuries. The wood of this tree is extremely grainy and yellowish to orange. The narrow texture and straight growth habit make the wood very useful for things like bows, posts, and musical instruments, among other applications. In fact, the French referred to Osage orange as bois d’arc in a reference to its historical use as bowwood, and you sometimes hear Osages called “bodarcs” in a corruption of the original French.

These trees are thorny and deciduous, meaning they shed their leaves in the colder winter months. The fruits they produce are large and heavily wrinkled, reminding some people of the brain. As the fruit lasts after the leaves drop, you can spot an Osage orange in autumn from a distance, thanks to the large, brightly colored fruit. When opened, the fruit proves to be pulpy, thick, and slimy, making it downright unpleasant to all but the most desperate squirrels. The fruit’s strange appearance has inspired such nicknames as Brain Fruit, Monkey Ball, and Monkey Brain.

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One of the main historical uses of Osage orange was in fencing and livestock control. If a row of trees is planted close together and well pruned, they will form an impenetrable hedge that works as a very effective fence. This usage gave the tree alternative names such as “live apple” and “living fence ball”. Maclura pomifera, as it is formally known, is still used that way and is also a very effective privacy fence as you can imagine.

Some people believe that the fruits of Osage orange are able to repel insects. Studies with the fruit have not revealed this, although some aromatic compounds in the fruit may be effective in repelling cockroaches. Although fruits are not effective insect repellents, some people use them in interior decoration anyway, because fruits look so weird and interesting.

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