and Myths of Hedge Apples
by Dr. Barbara Ogg, Extension Educator
article appeared in the October 2001 NEBLINE Newsletter
time of year, hedge apples - the fruit from the Osage-orange
tree - are being sold at farmer's markets, garden
centers, and other locations. Many people have heard
that these fruits can be used as an insect repellent,
but the truth is that many people don't know much
else about this unusual tree and its fruit.
Tree and Its Fruit:
Osage-orange is a small to medium-sized tree, having
a short trunk and a rounded or irregular crown. The
twigs are buff to orange-brown and are armed with
one-half inch long spines. The stems exude a milky
sap when cut. The Osage-orange is dioecious, meaning
that male and female flowers are produced on separate
trees. The small, green flowers appear in May or June.
Female trees produce 3-to 5-inch diameter fruit which
ripen in September or October and fall to the ground.
Habitat and Current Distribution:
Osage-orange is native to a small area in eastern
Texas, southeastern Oklahoma, and southwestern Arkansas.
This region is the home of the Osage Indians which
gives the tree its common name. Settlers found that
the Osage-orange transplanted easily, tolerated poor
soils, extreme heat, and strong winds and had no serious
insect or disease problems. It was widely planted
in the Midwest as a living fence because, when pruned
into a hedge, it provided an impenetrable barrier
to livestock. The development of barbed wire curtailed
its widespread planting, but many Osage-orange trees
can still be found in fence rows.
of the Osage-Orange:
wood is extremely hard, heavy, durable and shrinks
or swells little compared to the wood of other trees.
The wood is used for fence posts, treenails, furniture,
and archery bows. In fact, many archers consider the
wood of the Osage-orange to be the world's finest
wood for bows. Another common name for this tree,
bodark, is from the French bios d'arc meaning "bow
wood." This tree also produces a bright yellow
dye which can be extracted from the wood.
fruit of the Osage-orange is a nuisance in the home
landscape and has little value. Hedge apples are not
an important source of food for wildlife as most birds
and animals find the fruit unpalatable. The thorny
trees do provide nesting and cover for wildlife.
belief about the use of hedge apples for insect control
is widespread and persistent. it is claimed that placing
hedge apples around the foundation or inside the basement
will repel or control insects. A few years ago, Iowa
State University toxicologists extracted compounds
from hedge apples. When concentrated, these compounds
were found to repel insects.
also found that natural concentrations of these compounds
in the fruit were too low to be an effective repellent.
So, don't be fooled into spending much to use hedge
apples as an insect repellent.
you decide to pick hedge apples to check out the repellency
yourself or to use the fruit as a fall decoration,
it would be wise to wear gloves. The milky juice present
in the stems and fruit of the Osage-orange can irritate