Osage orange, or Maclura pomifera, is a small deciduous tree growing between 25 to 50 feet tall. The Osage-orange is commonly used as a tree row windbreak in prairie states, which gives it the nickname, "hedge apple". The sharp-thorned trees were also planted as cattle-deterring hedges before the introduction of barbed wire and afterward became an important source of fence posts.
The fruit is round and bumpy, about the size of a softball and it is filled with a sticky white latex sap. In fall, its color turns a bright yellow-green and it has a faint odor similar to that of oranges. Old wives tales say the fruit can be used to deter spiders, cockroaches, boxelder bugs, crickets, fleas, and other arthropods.
The heavy, close-grained yellow-orange wood is very dense and is prized for tool handles, treenails, fence posts, electrical insulators, and other applications requiring a strong dimensionally stable wood that withstands rot. Osage-orange heartwood is the most decay-resistant of all North American timbers and is immune to termites.
Osage-orange produces no saw timber, pulpwood, or utility poles, but it has been planted in greater numbers than almost any other tree species in North America.
If you have young children or pets, you may not want this tree growing in your yard because of the long thorns along the branches. However, when a tree reaches 15 to 20 years old, the trunk and lower branches will have no thorns.
The fruit of an Osage Orange is used by children in the Bluegrass as “brains” for a Halloween party.