We live in a crazy world full of strange and unusual things. Among those many odd things, you’ll find certain foods, animals, and plants that can seem otherworldly.
The Osage Orange Tree is one of these many otherworldly things. While the Osage Orange tree has orange in the name, it’s about as far from a traditional orange as it can be.
If you’re curious and want to learn more about this faux orange imposter, you’ve come to the right place.
A Brief History
Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat. The Osage orange is as much an orange as the phone or computer on which you’re reading this article.
The Osage orange tree is actually an apple and is often identified as the Hedge or Horse Apple. However, because it doesn’t resemble an apple, the Osage Orange Tree has been given many names through the years.
It’s unknown exactly who discovered the Osage orange first and what they used it for. However, the earliest written mention of the tree came in 1804 at the hands of a Scottish explorer named William Dunbar.
He mentions an exchange between several notable gentlemen, including President Thomas Jefferson, explorer Meriweather Lewis, and a mystery man named Pierre “Peter” Choteau. According to Dunbar, Lewis had samples of the tree given to him by Choteau, which he then sent to President Jefferson.
These samples were apparently of a unique “orange” tree that Choteau grew in his home garden in the Osage Nation, where the fruit came from. While this is the first written mention of the tree, it had presumably been used for centuries by Native Americans for various purposes.
Osage Orange Tree Family Geneology
Adding to the confusion is that the Osage orange belongs to the Moraceae family, which is home to other fruits such as mulberries, jackfruit, figs, and breadfruit. None of these fruits are the type of company typically kept by oranges.
Characteristics of the Osage Orange Tree
The Osage orange is best known for its coarse, thick skin. While the exact origins are unknown, it’s known to grow predominantly in the southwestern United States.
Size of the Fruit
If the Osage orange were actually an orange, it would be one of the biggest in the world. The fruits typically grow to the size of a grapefruit and measure between four and six inches in diameter.
Shape and Color of the Fruit
Osage oranges are round and green with thick, scaly, bumpy skin. When you cut the fruit open and see the inside, it’s usually white or green and looks similar to the flesh of a kiwi.
You can also see notes of brown where seeds are present, and there’s often milky white sap and pulp within the flesh of the plant.
Taste and Smell
Osage oranges have a bitter, nasty flavor, and the juice tastes like cucumber water gone bad. While it isn’t technically poisonous, there are very few, if any, people who consider the Osage orange to be edible.
Even animals detest the taste of Osage oranges. The only animals known to eat them are deer and squirrels, and even they only eat the seeds inside the orange.
While the taste is detestable, Osage oranges emit a sweet, citrusy, floral aroma when you cut them open.
Size of the Tree
The trees on which Osage oranges grow are perhaps more famous and valuable than the fruit itself. Osage orange trees can grow from thirty to sixty feet tall and be nearly as wide from side to side.
The trees are thick with branches, leaves, and brush. The distinguishing characteristic of these trees is that their stems and branches are packed with thorns that measure up to half-an-inch long and are razor-sharp.
As such, this tree isn’t one that you want to mess with.
Color of the Tree
From far away, this tree looks like any other fruit tree. It has green leaves, green fruits, and brown stems, branches, and trunks.
It isn’t until you’re up close and personal that you see the sharp thorns covering the tree.
Is It Safe for Eating?
While the Osage orange is repulsive, it isn’t technically poisonous. However, some find the taste so bad that they feel squeezy or sick after eating it.
Therefore, you aren’t advised to use Osage oranges for cooking, canning, or other eating purposes.
Health Benefits of this Orange Tree
Because of how little the Osage orange is used for its food, not much is known about its health benefits. However, several things we do know are that it contains anti-inflammatory, cancer, and oxidative benefits.
Can You Grow Osage Orange Trees at Home?
The short answer is that you can grow Osage orange trees at home. However, unless you have a specific use in mind, there’s not much point in attempting the feat.
These trees don’t produce fruit for ten years and tend to spread like wildfire. However, if you’re interested in growing Osage orange trees at home, check out our blog post on Horse Apples for all the details.
Alternative Uses for the Osage Orange Tree
While the Osage orange doesn’t have much value as a food, it has served other purposes.
As a Fence or Barrier
In the early days of the old west, farmers and ranchers would plant Osage orange trees instead of building fences for their animals.
As a Pest Deterrent
If you extract the juice from within an Osage orange, you can make a pest repellent. Osage orange juice has been proven to deter spiders, fleas, ants, cockroaches, and other creepy crawlies.
For Its Timber
The main use for Osage orange trees was for the tree’s timber. It’s known as one of the most durable, strong, and resistant types of wood in North America.
It also has beautiful, yellowish wood beneath its bark that provides decorative uses. Osage orange tree timber has been used for everything from farm equipment, to housing, to railroads, to weapons for Native Americans.
Where to Buy Osage Oranges
There’s a chance that you can find Osage oranges at your local farmers market or roadside stand. You can also find seeds from online retailers such as Amazon.
Final Thoughts About the Osage Orange Tree
There are few fruit trees that are as unique and complicated as the Osage Orange tree. While its fruit is disgusting and its branches are thorny, it has extremely beautiful wood and many practical uses.
However, if you’re more interested in oranges that are actually oranges, check out our Orange Trees page for blog posts and helpful growing and care guides!
- About the Author
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Jalin Coblentz was born and raised in northeast Ohio in the heart of farming country and grew up working in the family garden growing corn, tomatoes, potatoes, and a wide range of vegetables.
Canning and preservation were also a way of life for Jalin growing up, and he spent countless hours helping his mother, grandmother, and aunts with these duties. It’s now his passion to share his skills and knowledge with others to help them achieve their own growing goals.