Introduction to Osage Orange Tree

Introduction to Osage Orange Tree
The osage orange is a native tree that is best suited to zones four through eight. The plant is most frequently found in pastures, shelterbelts, ravines, woods—especially low lying ones, open ground, and fence rows.

The tree was originally native to the south central states, including Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana.

Once the plant became cultivated, it spread to other areas. The Osage Orange Indians for which it is named grew it so they didn’t have to travel so far to get the wood for their bows.

This was widely planted as a windbreak and shelter belt in the West. In the 1870s it was planted as a living fence or hedge before barbed wire became available. This use of the plant was promoted by the editor of the Prairie Farmer, John B. Wright in the 1850s, and by Professor Jonathan B. Turner.

Since that time the plant has escaped from cultivation and naturalized in the East and South. It has become established in most mainland states with the exceptions of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Minnesota, New Mexico, Arizona, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

Osage orange was first described by Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1804. It is typically a lowland species. The expedition collected cuttings and sent them to President Jefferson. Lewis called it osage orange and arrowwood of the Missouri. He also sent seeds to Bernard M’Mahon in Philadelphia. By the time Lewis and Clark arrived in St. Louis, the osage orange had been introduced there by Jean Pierre Chouteau.

Worldwide, there are around a dozen related species in this group, which includes trees, shrubs and vines found mostly in warm areas. Apparently, there used to be more species in this genus, but they have seemingly gone extinct.

The plant is a member of the mulberry family, which makes osage orange a relative of the breadfruit.

By the time of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the tree was known among explorers of the lower Mississippi Valley. President Jefferson spoke about the tree in a message to Congress in 1806. He reported that two British explorers saw the trees two years before in Washita, Arkansas and noted it was an excellent hedge plant.

The tree was given its Latin name (Maclura pomifera) by Thomas Nuttall, a botanist and ornithologist, who found it growing along the Red River. The Latin name was chosen in honor of William Maclure (1763-1840) of New Harmony, Indiana who was a geologist, librarian, and philanthropist. The common name osage orange refers to the Osage Orange tribe of Missouri

The tree was in much demand among the Native Americans who used the wood for bows and arrows. A few trees were planted in the Osage Orange village, according to Frederick Pursh.

Osage orange wood was also used traditionally for the staff held by the singer during the peyote ceremony. A yellow dye has been made from the wood. Parts of the plant are used medicinally by Native Americans.

Some people can get a dermatitis when exposed to the milky sap of the stems, fruit, and leaves.

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