What Is It Good For? The Osage Orange

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Osage orange fruit.
Osage oranges

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.

Osage orange
The isoflavone osajin.
Osage orange
The isoflavone pomiferin.

Is the Tree Useful?

Osage orange tree

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


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One thought on “What Is It Good For? The Osage Orange

  • Tom Tom

    Thanks for the article Mr. Summers. Great write up too. I never knew any of this about this tree previously or even what it was called.

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