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Osage-orange (Maclura pomifera)

Also known as Osage orange, hedge apple.

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Summary

A small and somewhat peculiar tree with bright orange bark, long thorns on stems, and producing large compound fruits which are hard and have a distinct aroma.

Range - Expand

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Native

This tentative map is based on the FHWA's ERA. This data lacks information on Canada, but also overestimates native ranges, especially around the edges, as this post explains. We have not yet reviewed or fixed this map.

USDA Plants Profile for Maclura pomifera

Illinois Wildflowers Page for Maclura pomifera

Fire Effects Information System (FEIS) Article for Maclura pomifera

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Habitat

Prefers full to partial sun, and any soils except acidic soils. Prefers moist sites, but also drought tolerant. Tolerates air pollution. Able to survive very cold areas, far north of its native range, suggesting it may have once been more widely distributed.

Found in floodplain forests, thickets, savannas, overgrown borders in rural areas, and open, degraded woodlands.

Although this plant can grow in a range of conditions, it is usually only found near humans, where people have either planted it nearby, or disturbed the habitat in a way that it benefits from. Given the present ecological factors in North America, this species probably would not persist indefinitely in the wild in the absence of human intervention.

Faunal Associations

This plant has been theorized to be associated with now-extinct megafauna of North America, which may have distributed its fruit.

The thorns are used by shrikes (Laniidae sp.) to impale their prey.

Uses

The Osage-orange is used as a windbreak, due to its ability to withstand exposed conditions, as well as the ease of propagation by rooting its branches to grow into new shrubs. Its thorns also made it attractive as fencing for cattle, before the advent of barbed wire.

The wood has good properties but frequently grows in twisted, irregular shapes, limiting its usefulness to smaller applications, such as fenceposts, for which it is widely used.

The firewood has a high heat content.

The fruit are sometimes used for their supposed ability to repel insects and spiders in the home.

There are several other Maclura species worldwide. One, Maclura tricuspidata, native to East Asia, has been introduced at a few scattered locations in the southeast.

There are numerous other species in North America, both native and introduced, in the broader Moraceae, or mulberry or fig family.

Notes

Although named "orange", it is not closely related to oranges; the resemblance is superficial, due to similar leaf shape and both species having fairly long thorns on their twigs.

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