Thursday, March 15, 2012
Planting Osage-Orange Trees
The Osage-orange tree has many names--among them hedge-apple, bodark or bois-d'arc, and bowwood, with the Latin name Maclura pomifera. The uses of the tree may be found in the names it has been given. Native Americans, as well as today's serious bow-makers, found the wood especially valuable for making bows. Bois-d'arc comes from Louisiana French and translates literally as "bow wood." For people on the prairie, the primary reason for planting the trees was for fencing. I do not know who planted the hedge-apple grove on our farm. It has been a mature grove of trees since I was a child. What I suspect is that the trees were planted by my grandfather for posts to fence our pastures.
In addition to cutting the wood for fence posts, settlers used the trees themselves as hedges. The growth pattern of the limbs is unruly and abundant, and while branches are young and tender they can be woven together to form an impenetrable barrier. Add to that the thorns on the branches, and planting hedge-apple trees along the borders of fields and pastures can create living fences.
Many people, including my mother-in-law, believe that the hedge apples themselves repel insects. Among those proponents, some suggest cutting the fruit into wedges to better release the milky juice. No commercial use of the juice has been discovered, but various compounds have been extracted from the heartwood for use in products such as an antifungal and a food preservative. The tree so valuable to homesteaders like Isaac may yet find modern uses.