Osage Orange

by Green Deane

in Grain/Nuts/Seeds, Miscellaneous, Plants, Trees/Shrubs

Osage Orange

 Maclura pomifera: The Edible Inedible

Sometimes everybody is almost wrong.

If you Google “Osage Orange” or “Maclura pomifera” (mak-LOOR-uh pom-EE-fer-uh) (in 2009) you’ll get some 50,000 hits.*  Approximately 49,997 of those sites will tell you the Osage Orange is not edible. Two of three remaining sites, here and the one below, will say it is edible. The third one reports we say it is edible but we must be wrong.

Osage Orange Seeds

In all fairness, not all of the fruit is edible. Only the seeds are. In fact, the Osage Orange it is closely related to the Mulberries, which we do eat, and the Paper Mulberry which also has an edible fruit. But, 99.999999% of the Internet sites says it is not edible. Why? Two reasons. Somebody a long time ago said the fruit was not edible, and the Internet is mostly cut and paste wrong. I have truly become disgusted with sites like Wikipedia regarding the inaccurate information about plant edibility.

Fruit is not edible

It was from Jim Mason, a naturalist with the Great Plains Nature Center in Wichita Kansas, that I learned the seeds were edible. They taste somewhat like raw sunflower seeds. Not bad for an inedible fruit though he does say it takes a lot of work to get the seeds, and he’s right.  His web page is here. The Osage Orange grows in Florida — I know where there is one in Jacksonville. I have visited it several times. However, the tree grows in abundance in the mid-west, being part of the 1930’s reclamation process. It is, or was, the most intentionally planted tree in the United States. Its native range is a swath running from east Texas up into Oklahoma and parts of western Arkansas. It grows in 39 states and Washington DC, excluding the coldest and or driest areas, such as the high plain states and upper New England. Also found in Canada, it’s “invasive” in Italy and approaching invasive in Spain.

To separate the edible seeds from mature fruit put the fruit in a bucket of water and wait until the fruit is soft, then separate the seeds out.  This will be an aroma-filled process and not pleasant. Let’s just say starving would help.

William Maclure, 1763-1840

Also called Hedgeapples, the Osage Orange got some of its reputation from killing livestock. But careful investigation shows the animals usually suffocated on the large fruit. That got translated into “toxic.” But one livestock feeding study found no significant chemical problems with the Osage Orange. As for the seeds, birds and small mammals have enjoyed them for a long time. Squirrels seem particularly fond of ripping into one.

While the edibility of the Osage Orange has been maligned for decades, its usefulness as a tree has not. It was and still is esteemed for making bows. In fact, some bow makers think the Osage Orange’s wood for bows is superior to the Yew Tree, which is usually held up to be the classic standard.  The wood is turned into various products or used to make guitars. The bark also furnishes a yellow dye and tannins.

Botanically, the Osage Orange, Maclura pomifera, was named for a Scottish-born semi-American geologist named William Maclure (1763-1840.) He moved around a lot so calling him an American is a bit iffy.  Pomifera means bearing apples.

 Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile


Graphic courtesy of the Great Plains Nature Center

IDENTIFICATION: Tree to 40 feet and 20 inches diameter, often with a short thick trunk and numerous low branches. Bark gray to yellow-brown, thick, divided into narrow forking ridges, usually with hard sharp spines to one inch at leaf base. Sap thick, white, sticky. Leaves alternate, ovate, 2 to five inches long, one to three inches  wide. Fruit large yellow-green knobby balls to five inches in diameter.

TIME OF YEAR: Fruit, smelling faintly of orange, in late summer, fall.

ENVIRONMENT: Bottom lands that are often inundated with water, mixed with other hardwoods, and interspersed with prairie, and grow where moderately dry as well.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Seeds raw or roasted

*The original article was written in August 2009. Since then the number of hits has increased from 50,000 to 1.5 million (Sept 2014)  and I think now a few more sites say the seeds are edible. One addition to make. I learned of a study that was looking for old homesteads to excavate in the midwest. They originally thought of using old wells as a possible homestead locator but found old Osage Orange trees were more indicative of a former homestead nearby. That says something about the usefulness of the tree. 

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{ 185 comments… read them below or add one }

Rick July 13, 2015 at 15:39

P.S. Keep it trimmed if you use it as a fence…it’s pretty invasive!


Rick July 13, 2015 at 15:38

Osage Oranges or as French Trappers called them. Boi D’arcs (BOWDAWK Americanized…). While Indians used it for hot burning firewood and wood for their bows… Settlers originally prized it as a Living Fence. Planted a few (3) feet apart in a shallow linear trench. You would take the first years growth and bend it left (or to the right) weaving it across the planted tree to it’s left (or right if you choose!). The second year limbs would grow vertically UP from these horizontally bent pieces and you would weave them in the same pattern. The 3rd and 4th year you’d have a hedge described by settlers as “Horse High, Bull Tough, Hog Tight”. The tree grows about 3 feet per year. The wood burns HOT as it’s a member of the Hickory family. Named after the Osage Indian tribes. Pretty yellow wood but nasty thorns. Referenced in many of first settlers letters and diaries of the plains. Enjoy.


RM McWilliams August 13, 2015 at 03:02

I thought that osage orange was in the same family as mulberry and figs. But hickories are in the same family as walnuts, butternuts, etc, I thought. Deane, can yoy shed some light on this?


TC July 8, 2015 at 17:04

I actually boiled and ate a very small amount of the fruit itself several years ago with no ill effect. I don’t recommend this due to the stated toxicity of the fruit. This tree is related to the breadfruit tree. The fruit upon boiling it did have a slight bread scent to it.


katesisco April 11, 2015 at 21:38

But it is such an ugly tree. Its a mess. It doesn’t even grow like a tree. You dont just prune it, you have to attack it like a gladiator. It sprouts from the ground, every branch every tip, every notch, every fork. Its a mess. If ever there was evidence that a plant can be damaged by radiation or energy or infrared, its the Osage.
Braham cattle are the equivalent. This strange version of the cow, huge hump, massive folds of dewlip, almost not a cow, is the Osage version of a tree. Its a mess.


RM McWilliams August 13, 2015 at 02:49

Brahman cattle are actually a different species of cattle than Europena cattle – Bos indicus instead of Bos taurus.
Though, like the botanists Gren Deane mentions on this site as constantly changing the scientific names of plants, some scientists use different names for these distinctly different kinds of cattle, or consider them to be sub-species of the same kind. Doesn’t matter- you are right, Brahmans are not the same as European cattle! THe hump and dewlap are aong their adaptations to hot climates with distinct wet and dry seasons.
Osage orange, to me, is a beautiful tree. Distinct in appearance, yes. But wouldn’t it be boring if all trees looked the same?


Jennifer March 16, 2015 at 13:08

I live in Indiana on a bluff overlooking the Wabash River. I have Osage orange, honey locust, and Kentucky Coffee Bean trees. Although the article states that only mega fauna eat the hedge apples, I don’t believe that’s true. Here’s a picture of some hedge apples on the ground in October. After the snow covered the ground there were all kinds of very small animal prints in the snow around the hedge apples tearing into & eating the seeds. There were never any deer tracks, only rabbits, squirrels, and the tiny prints which I think might be mice or possibly chipmunks. Wish I had taken a picture of the “torn apart” hedge apples with all the tiny animal prints! Now that the snow has melted, the hedge apples are completely gone.


Cody February 9, 2015 at 18:32

Now, let me be clear, I am not an expert, but I am very fond of this tree. just wanted to throw in a few cents on what I have learned.

1. they do repel insects. they work wonders at it
2. they make great fence posts.. ugly knotty fence posts, but they rot at 1/3 the rate of marine treated wood and last a long long time. i can remember fence posts that i was told had been up through 3 sets of wire as a kid, and thats a long time. family said that fence posts had been up over 35 years… still holding up.
3. they burn HOT HOT HOT. be CAREFUL. you can use a small log to clean creosote out of your chimney.. but again.. start with a 6″ long by 2″ thick piece and feel it out! many ha house with triple insulated chimney has burnt to the ground because some dope threw in a large chunk and it overheated the system!!!

common names, osage orange, bowdark, IRON WOOD, hedge apple… and the IRON wood comes from the fact that when laying rail they would pile this wood up on a rail and burn it, and without bellows they could stack it in a way that would get hot enough to bend rails, it seriously burns that hot. .. or so the story goes. and i believe it.. partly due the fact that i have experimented with it, and let me tell you.. it burns HOT.


Dave January 30, 2015 at 15:50

I’m sitting in my tree stand watching a squirrel go to town on an OO hedge apple and got to wondering what else oo was good for. Wow.

And I’m surrounded by them. I have no idea how many there are.

I have a blind behind an oo dead fall the I’ve used for almost 10 years. I just realized it hasn’t really rotted much at all.

I’m thinking this might be good wood for making knife handles.


Jeff clouser September 16, 2015 at 21:29

Gets rid of a plethora of insects. I would cut each one into quarters and put in the corners of all the rooms in my house. Never had an insect problem after that !


Chanel January 11, 2015 at 17:20

Be my guest and come get these horrible trees that yield big annoying green balls every fall. They fall all over the yard and are hard to clean up. I live in Shelbyville, Tn and have a backyard full of them.


Oma Lee December 28, 2014 at 23:08

Thank you so much for all the information.
God bless you


Frank December 23, 2014 at 07:17

Some of the string instruments I’ve seen on line show attractive grains in the wood, however I am curious given the hardness of the wood, could a seasoned (dried out) blank of osage be used to make recorders or primitive clarinet type of instrument? A common wood for clarinets has been grenadilla (extremely dense wood), if osage is also dense, resistant to rot, I wonder if it also might be a good wood for such instruments. I’ll be curious to try some bow limbs for a bow/arrow experiment also. Good winter project cutting some large limbs down to cure for later.


Karen October 19, 2014 at 01:14

Everyone has great info about these! I have 2 of the trees on my new property in Ky. I always wanted Hedge Apples after reading about their medicinal uses. I had never seen one in person. Then we bought the property not yet knowing. I saw a tree from a distance that looked like it had a fruit, and turns out it was the Hedge apple! I was actually excited. I’ll post more if I try to eat them. My husband has cancer like symtoms, so hopefully I can get him to try it, but that’ll be REAL hard to do!


Debbie October 16, 2014 at 23:21

My husband has stage 3 rectal cancer with 1-2 positive nodes. He was on chemo pills and radiation for 28 days. He will soon see a surgeon. I started him on Osage Orange this week. He seems to be getting a headache. Could OO be the cause?


glenda October 11, 2014 at 14:22

closet or room deodorizers:
this is what I found works best.
take a sharp knife and cut the skin off, leaving them sappy, take an old coffee can with a lid and store in your spices after you use them to coat the hedge apples that have been skinned.
once you do coat them with spices (I prefer cinnamon) you have to lay them in an open air wire basket. like one of those three tiered hanging wire baskets that you can hang over your sink for your taters onions etc. but don’t stack them as they will mold if air is not allowed to flow around the whole apple. they will shrink up a lot as they dry. once dry though they are quite easily the best pomander you will ever have to give or use as a gift. when you get them ready to lay in basket, take a christmas tree ornament hanger and stick it into the flesh of the orange, once the apple dries up and turns hard then you have a way to hang your apple in closet or on christmas tree or you can then cover the apples with lace or ribbons whatever you wish. have made several over the years and still enjoy seeing them in the closets when I go to get something from it. they will shrink up to about 1/4 of their original size.

if you want hedge apples, you can buy them in boxes off ebay, they are quite cheap as many sellers!! I sell some boxes every year on ebay. they are good for so many things.

we like to find the weird looking ones, like doubled up ones and use markers and make faces, etc and take pictures for our hedge apple album. our kids and grandkids like to use them like baseballs and throw them at the trees to see if they will stick on the spikey thorns, its like a fall game after hunting season hours are over. yep sit in the deer stand for all morning then come down and have hedge apple baseball games. improves their throwing skills. and they have gathered up the crummy ones, put on the sand pile and used as targets for gun shooting practice too. then I make them gather up the pieces and throw into the chicken pen, as the chickens love the seeds. squirrels sit in trees and scream at them too for ruining their winter possibles. deer also eat on them. so hubs will take the machete and chop em up and spread them on the deer trails too. helps squirrels gather up what they want for winter as well.

we also have tumbleweed races out here, so whatever trips your trigger, hubs says.

am currently dehydrating slices of the skin and pulp about 1/2 off around the apples, leaving the seed pod centers, will take out as many seeds as we can, and feed the rest of those fruits to the chickens to peck clean fo seeds, then will throw up against the house outside for repellent balls. I am not sure they work as repellents but we do kick em over to the foundation when chicks are done with them.

one winter we gathered all of them and put them whole in the big hole in our driveway, when the cowboys run over them with their trucks, it squashed them enough the squirrels and our chickens were fighting over the seeds, but we kept throwing them in the hole til finally it managed to make a nice underlayment for the load of sand we put on top, made a sort of tough layer and has been helping hold that sand in place to keep the size of the water hole smaller after a rain or snowmelt. so we have used the apples for many things.

I sliced them into about 1/2 inch slices, put one toothpick broke in half into the center then layed them on my oven rack and turned oven on to 200degrees then after the dried, they were a wavy conical shape, I pulled out the toothpicks then made a U shape out of the top of floral wire and stuck the wire thru those holes, twisted the wire together under the cone shape, then covered that stem with green floral tape and stuck them in a vase, makes a nice brown flower arrangement for fall.

each year I like to try something different, but nothing beats a display of pumpkins and hedge apples on the porch. til the apples start to get mushy and turn brown, then they go to the chicken yard or the foundation of house.


Mountain Emporium September 5, 2014 at 08:17

I have plenty for sale. please see websitehttp://www.ebay.com/usr/ehmountainemporiumhw


baker August 6, 2014 at 00:02

the tree with so many names…..the hardest tree native to north america…the wood with the highest density….one of my favorite trees….i have an old bo’dark bow that is at least 60 years old, still has a cast to it that is amazing… i drive for a living, and keep my eyes out for like victims errr,,trees, every once in a while i find one being taken down, and try to collect the trunk….i have a number of staves curing …..fruits for the house pests….and now i will be collecting them for eating also…the giving tree


Dahna July 28, 2014 at 22:44

I live in North Carolina. Today I went for a walk near my house, there is a dead end in the area with one small field, on it there is a section with overgrown weeds , I love to look at the different kinds of weeds, to me they are also beautiful . As I was looking around I saw a small tree in the middle of them. I looked up and there were three softball size green lumpy fruits. I have not seen them since I lived in Ohio 50 yrs. ago. I got so excited that called out ” monkey balls” that is what we use to call them when I was little. I then turned around and there were two people looking puzzled. LOL I had to laugh and I asked the man if he knew what they were called, I of course explained . He told me he never noticed them before, but I could google the description .And I FOUND YOU. thank you for the awesome info I am going back and check on them later in the season, it’s probably too early. I have a lot of health issues, and I need to investigate this. Every ones insight was helpful.. God Bless


Green Deane July 29, 2014 at 08:39

Thanks, and I will be in Boone NC for the next two weeks hiking around.


E. Wright July 26, 2014 at 18:07

I grew up in central Kansas and we always called them Osage Oranges. My grandmother, who homesteaded in WaKeeney in 1901, believed that the trees’ roots went out 16 feet into the fields and caused the drought that made their farm fail. When she was very old and had dementia, she would repeat “16 feet into the fields” dozens of times a day. She hated them, but I have always loved rows of them alongside the fields.


Green Deane July 26, 2014 at 18:16

Perhaps there was more to the story… but it is interesting how small incidents can be come personally important in many ways.


RM McWilliams August 13, 2015 at 02:33

Current understanding of how trees function within the hydrological cycle would contradict your grandmother’s impression. Trees typically help, rather than harm, this cycle. First, the hedgerows also act as windbreaks, moderating the dessicating effect of dry winds on any plants in their windshadow. They also collect dust and dirt blowing in the wind, which can have an effect like sandblasting on plants.
Osage orange tree roots reach, according to one government report, as much as 27 feet down into the soil. This allows them to access water unaccessable to the roots of most crop plants. Trees pump water from deep underground into their leaves, and then into the air via transpiration. Other plants underneath and nearby benefit from the moisture that falls at the ‘drip line’ around the far edge of the foliage, as well as from the local increase in humidity.
After centuries (or longer) of viewing every living thing as being in competition with each other, scientists are beginning to understand that synergies and co-operation are far more common than cut-throat competition. Most farms and homesteads that failed did so because few people then understood how natural ecosystems thrived, and how to tap into the inter-relationships that made the prairie so abundant. Only a slightly higher percentage of farmers understand this now. Sadly, periodic drought just made the ‘wearing out’ of those farms happen that much faster.
Those interested may want to read Jerry Brunetti’s ‘Farm as Ecosystem’.


Tim July 10, 2014 at 19:01

The fruit also make great smashballs. One person pitches. The other person swings and SMASH! Loads of fun!


Green Deane July 11, 2014 at 07:27

As that helps the tree get its seeds spread around the tree would probably agree.


Orlando Roman July 6, 2014 at 09:02

Can I grow Osage Orange in (tropics)Puerto Rico? I know is there is some in Hawaii India, Africa,I’m into archery and would love to have it close so in my old age I could make bows,lol!


annelize geldenhuis April 26, 2014 at 00:35

Hallo from South Africa…..I use Macluras as decor …..how can i make the fruit last longer ….will they dry well? Any advice on their preservation please


ZAch March 2, 2014 at 15:41

Do you have any seeds you are giving away? I live in Ontario and would like to try and grow this! It’s native to the region.


Nancy Oden February 18, 2014 at 15:24

Musser Forests (sell trees and other plants) sells Osage Orange trees. They’re a reliable seller. Plants are small but relatively inexpensive.


halewkh February 4, 2014 at 12:10

Specifically which birds and small mammals eat the seeds of Osage orange? Can you refer me to any references?


Margaret March 18, 2014 at 22:19

I’ve seen squirrels eating the seeds, but no references, just an eyewitness account.


RM McWilliams August 13, 2015 at 02:07

I have also observed squirrels eating the seeds, each year in late winter or very early spring, after the fruit had softened, they dug out the seeds and ate them. This was routine, every year.


bill willey January 23, 2014 at 22:37

If anyone
is looking for hedgeapple capsules i have an abundant supply.
i can be contacted by e-mail . rangerbill01@hotmail.com
no order to small and no order to large.


Mary Combs January 13, 2014 at 21:58

Does anyone know whether bows are made from the stem or branch wood? Also what size wood stave would be best for using to make a bow?
Will Osage Orange grow in Northern Idaho? Thanks!


Green Deane January 13, 2014 at 22:26

On the Green Deane Forum there is a thread dedicated to bow making and a lot of useful and technical information.


TATM December 11, 2013 at 14:07

I found the easiest/lazyman’s way to sprout the seeds for seedlings is to leave the fruits lie and freeze on the ground through the winter, in a protected place open to the elements. The fruits will be rotting in the spring after thawing and the seeds will germinate in a clump. the rotting fruit seems to nourish and protect the little germinants. They root right through the soft fruit into the soil. Give them a few weeks to “harden” before separating while keeping moist, and planting temporarily in potting soil. Keep well watered until their second season.


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