Archive for Thursday, December 3, 2009

Strange fruit

December 3, 2009

It wasn’t something that I’d hoped for, but in terms of numbers, it was a successful crop. In fact, this successful crop was a pain in the neck — well actually, the back — after I got done picking it up. Unfortunately, it wasn’t edible and all I could do was grunt and groan hauling this “crop” to the trash.

What am I talking about? Well, in my backyard I have Osage orange trees, which produced a bumper crop of hedge apples. The ground was littered with round green objects that were slightly bigger than a softball. They can be a safety hazard and I have stepped on a hedge apple and taken a fall. In addition, whacking a hedge apple with your lawnmower isn’t a good idea either. So, before I could mow a couple of weeks ago, I had to gather up these ugly green balls and haul them off.

When I started, I thought it would be just a small job. Before I was done, I had hauled three trash barrel loads to the front yard for pick-up. Hedge apples are heavy and sticky in addition to smelling a bit bad so it wasn’t a fun job.

I really don’t like Osage orange trees all that much. In addition to hedge apples, they have long, sharp thorns and if you don’t keep them trimmed, you will have a tough time mowing under the branches without scratches.

It has always seemed unfortunate that the prolific hedge apple has no real value. I decided to do a little research and I was shocked at how much information is available about the Osage orange tree and the hedge apple. Quite frankly, there were many, many Web sites with a variety of data about the tree and its fruit.

The tree originated in areas of Texas, southeastern Oklahoma and southwestern Arkansas. Apparently, it took its name from the Osage Indians who lived in the same area and the golden yellow or bright orange color of its freshly cut wood.

The Osage orange is a tough tree and can thrive in poor soil such as the hard clay that we have in our area. The tree isn’t bothered by extreme heat or drought and is tough enough to withstand heavy winds. Probably these qualities resulted in the Osage orange migration to Kansas and other areas in the Midwest. In the 1800s, farmers planted Osage orange trees to form a border around fields. They pruned the trees into a hedge, which served as fencing for cattle. In addition, the tree has no serious disease or insect problems.

Osage orange wood is hard and has many uses including fence posts and furniture. I also discovered that Osage orange wood is often used for archery bows. Hedge wood makes a hot fire, although the sparks can be dangerous.

I discovered that, yes, the hedge apple has some uses, but of course, not as food. One of the uses I discovered was as an insect repellent. One “home remedy” for insects is to place hedge apples around the foundation of a house or inside the basement. There are those who think that hedge apples will keep homes free of crickets, cockroaches and other similar pests.

I have heard that hedge apples are poisonous, but apparently that isn’t true. Most animals shun the hedge apple because of its bad odor, although one Web site pointed out there have been reports of cows choking on hedge apples.

It seems that one of the few uses for the hedge apple is in decorating. They have been used in a variety of displays and were even used by Martha Stewart. I was surprised to hear that hedge apples can be purchased for decorating purposes in stores in some areas of the country.

Probably the cool, wet weather this summer resulted in a bigger-than-usual crop of hedge apples. Anyway, even after one major harvest, I still have lots more hedge apples falling, and I’ll be picking them up again.

Maybe the crop won’t be as big next year.

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