You’ve heard of the Osage Indians, but have you heard of the Osage orange? Latin name Maclura pomifera, the “orange” is a grapefruit-sized, pale green, bumpy, ordinarily uneaten fruit with a woody, pulpy consistency that smells a good deal like its citrus namesake. If these fruits are seldom eaten, are they useful for something else? If so, what about the tree? Finally, if the tree is generally undesirable, what of its wood?
Is Osage Orange Fruit Worthless?
Most foraging animals pass by an Osage orange, with exceptions being the squirrel and the deer, which eat its tiny seeds. Is there something useful in its chemistry? The fruit does contain two isoflavones, namely osajin and pomiferin. Of the two, only pomiferin is classified a strong anti-oxidant. Research has indicated the two organic compounds are not well-suited as insect repellents. They are now under investigation for determining whether they have a role in impacting cancer cells. Other medical applications are being investigated, as well.
Is the Tree Useful?
Historically, the thorns and structure of M. pomifera made them ideal for impenetrable hedges. The trees themselves are not particularly beautiful and their fruit makes them “messy” for ornamental purposes. The combination of seemingly near useless fruit and an unattractive appearance suggests we turn our attention to the wood of this unusual “orange”.
What of the Wood?
Osage orange wood is nothing short of spectacular. It is beautiful. But its beauty is surpassed by its practicality, since it is also the wood highest in BTU level, beating out even black locust. Yes, the Maclura pomifera tree makes the very best firewood. but there is more.
The following YouTube video, Making a Golf Club Out of Osage Orange demonstrates both its beauty and the versatility.
Here is another video, by Clay Hayes, showing the harvesting of Osage wood and its processing for the manufacture of bows.
Clay provides additional videos demonstrating the manufacture of the bows themselves.
Finally, here is a page containing fascinating tidbits concerning M. pomifera: Just a Pinch Recipe Club: Osage Oranges
Note: You might also enjoy Buttercups Glow at Night
- Ohio State University: Tree of the Week: Osage Orange [excellent images]
- Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: Antioxidant Isoflavones in Osage Orange…
- Iowa State University: Osajin and Pomiferin, Two Isoflavones Purified from Osage Orange Fruits…
- Westminster College: Senior Chemistry Major Received Drinko Research Grant