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Hedge apples plentiful in Ozarks

Missouri

If you've driven around the Ozarks much during the fall, you have undoubtedly seen a hedge apple, Osage-orange or Bois D'arc tree.

If you haven't noticed the medium-sized tree (commonly known by three different names), then you have probably noticed the large yellow "hedge apples" littered on the ground under these trees.

Chances are good you have also wondered, "What exactly are those things good for?"

During the mid-19th century, Osage-orange trees were widely planted by Midwest farmers as a living fence. When pruned into a hedge, it provided an impenetrable barrier to livestock.

But the widespread planting of Osage-orange stopped with the introduction of barbed wire. Since that time, many of the original hedges have been destroyed or died.

In the Ozarks, a fairly large number of Osage-orange trees remain and because of residential expansion, they are increasingly becoming part of yards and subdivisions prompting lots of calls to MU Extension Centers on how to get rid of them.

"The fruits can be an awful mess, and they are a huge temptation to young children who want to throw them. Disposal is a nuisance and they are too large to just mow over," said Burton.

No easy answer

If you have a yard with an Osage-Orange tree, your options are limited. There is no research to show that products like Florel or Snipper--both used to keep sweet gum trees from producing their pointy seed balls--are effective at preventing fruit from developing on Osage-orange trees.

"The best way to control fruit on Osage-Orange is to only plant male trees (dioecious). I know Kansas State propagated and released a couple of male thorn-less varieties several years ago but the male (fruitless) types are difficult to find," said Jay Chism, a University of Missouri Extension agronomy specialist in Bolivar, Mo.

If the trees already exist in your yard, the only option may be to cut them down. According to Chism, several sources say Roundup can also be used to kill Osage-orange trees.

"Just spray the leaves, not the branches. This will kill the tree all the way to the roots. But, that will still leave you with a problem. Due to the preservative nature of hedge wood, the tree could stand for over a decade. You might want to find a wood cutter who would take the wood for firewood or fence posts and then have the stump pulled," said Chism.

No food, no insects

Research has shown hedge apples are not an important source of food for wildlife because most animals find the fruit unpalatable.

Research has shown hedge apples are not toxic, although many cattle have died from hedge apples because they get lodged in their throats and they suffocate.

The use of hedge apples for insect control is a well-known home remedy. Old-timers say placing hedge apples around the foundation or inside the basement of a home provides relief from cockroaches, spiders, boxelder bugs, crickets and other pests.

Unfortunately, there is little scientific research on the effectiveness, and no valid evidence to confirm the folklore. Researchers at Iowa State University, using the extracted oil of the Osage orange as an insect repellent, say cockroaches are repelled by the substance but that isn't the same as setting out a whole hedge apple.

That same milky juice present in the stems and fruit of the Osage-orange may also cause irritation to the human skin.

Past and present uses

Osage-orange trees are not grown for "hedge" fences any more but the hard wood does have other uses. Since the wood is extremely hard, heavy, tough and durable it is frequently used for things like fence posts and furniture.

Archers consider the wood of the Osage-orange to be the world's finest wood for bows.

Researchers in Kansas are trying to develop new varieties of the tree that make nice landscape or ornamental trees without the messy fruit.

Surprisingly, some folks have found a niche for selling hedge apples as decorations for the home. If you still doubt that the tree has any positive uses, check out www.hedgeapple.com.

"I'd say the best uses for the tree are the manufacturing of fence post and firewood. Other real benefits are going to be windbreak to control erosion and wildlife protection," said Chism.



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