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Did you know Osage Oranges evolved with wooly mammoths?


Maclura pomifera, also known as Osage Orange, Bois d’Arc, Hedge-apple, or Horse-apple, the osage tree is native to our area. Even so, there aren’t very many of them in our particular neck of the woods.

osage tree
A bedraggled osage tree. This one gathers flotsam from the creek overflowing all the time.

Osage trees were once planted close together so their branches could be woven together as fencing that was “bull high and hog tight”. Once barbed wire was invented, ranchers cut down the trees and put up the fencing most of us recognize today. And during the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma, Osage was planted as wind breaks to prevent drifting erosion and to give jobs to workers. (https://newsok.com/article/3914715)

Native Americans used the large enough branches to make fine bows. The wood is extremely dense and woodworkers like to use it for making bowls and spoons. The heartwood is said to be a very powerful antifungal remedy, and this is where my interest really lies in this tree. I want to try that remedy on one of my fingernails that have a fungus that’s proving very difficult to get rid of.

Some people have claimed the oranges help repel spiders from the house, but I didn’t see that it worked very well when I tried it in the past. Here’s an article that verifies the repellent properties, but I think the apples themselves don’t have very concentrated amounts. Perhaps in a house less cluttered than mine they might have worked. https://lancaster.unl.edu/enviro/pest/nebline/hedgeapple.htm

osage orange
osage orange inside

Osage and Mammoth Co-evolution

Please click the following link and read this article.

That article covers the most interesting information I’ve ever seen about osage. It’s not so much about the osage tree as it is about the coexistence and coevolution of certain plants and animals, including the osage tree. I’ve always wondered why nothing eats them, and this article gives a good explanation. The reason is because the primary target for the heavy bumpy “oranges” were wooly mammoths and ground sloths.

The Evolving Naturalist also has a comprehensive article on this and other fruits that co-evolved with now extinct animals. It’s fascinating!

Starting Osage Seeds

After learning a bit more about the plant, it just strengthened my conviction to grow some for our own property here at Wild Ozark. But I never see any saplings anywhere, so figured I’d need to start seeds. At the time, the thought of making cuttings never entered my mind, but as it turns out, that’s the most efficient way to propagate this tree. However, in my ignorant bliss, I plowed ahead with the challenge of germinating seeds and found some success!

And since there are no saplings, I figured the seeds must not sprout very reliably after falling on the ground. After reading about the co-evolution of this tree with mammoths and sloths, I figured maybe they need to be digested by a large mammal first. Given the lack of mammoths or ground sloths in the area, I considered feeding some of the “horse-apples”, another name by which the fruit is known, to the horses. But then I’d have to hunt down seedlings in the field before the grass overtook them and I didn’t think I’d find any that way.

osage pulp
Osage pulp after straining
Osage seeds after soaking overnight in diluted apple cider vinegar.
Osage seeds after soaking overnight in diluted apple cider vinegar.

What I ended up doing was letting a fruit partially rot. Then I mashed it all up in a bowl and covered it with diluted apple cider vinegar. I let it soak overnight then strained the mash and separated out the seeds.

I put the seeds between a damp paper towel in a plastic container, but didn’t shut the lid tight. Left it on my table in the kitchen where it would get some afternoon heat through the window. Nearly two weeks later I had sprouts!

Now some of the sprouts are potted indoors in that same spot and some are potted outside where they will get the ordinary temperature fluctuations until spring.

I’ll come back and update if any of these survive to become seedlings.

Update 02/03/16: One of my little osage seedlings are up! This is one that has been kept inside on the windowsill. I don’t see any signs of emergence on the ones being kept outside. More seeds are sprouting in my sprouting container, so I should have some of these to offer this year at the market.

Osage Orange Seedling
Osage Orange Seedling

2 thoughts on “Did you know Osage Oranges evolved with wooly mammoths?”

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  1. When I was growing in southeast Missouri these were quite common. I had always referred to them as hedge apples, which is what they were called there. I love the texture of the trunks so rough and twisted. I have photographed several but have as yet found a composition that I like. I had a little better luck with the fruit. I often though of the texture of the osage orange as that of our brain. Here is my capture of one from our area.


    1. Great photo of the fruit. I have a hard time capturing the right look of any tree, it seems, but this one is harder than most because it’s just not a very neatly arranged tree, lol. The fruit do remind me of a brain, with all the wrinkles and the convoluted pattern of the surface. I hope some of the seeds sprout so I can plant some more of them. Thanks for dropping in!

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