Skip to Main Content

Intro to Trees of Indiana: Osage Orange

The classic and trusted book "Fifty Common Trees of Indiana" by T.E. Shaw was published in 1956 as a user-friendly guide to local species.  Nearly 70 years later, the publication has been updated through a joint effort by the Purdue Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Indiana 4-H, and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and reintroduced as "An Introduction to Trees of Indiana."

The full publication is available for download for $7 in the Purdue Extension Education Store. The field guide helps identify common Indiana woodlot trees. 

Each week, the Intro to Trees of Indiana web series will offer a sneak peek at one species from the book, paired with an ID That Tree video from Purdue Extension forester Lenny Farlee to help visualize each species as it stands in the woods. Threats to species health as well as also insight into the wood provided by the species, will be provided through additional resources as well as the Hardwoods of the Central Midwest exhibit of the Purdue Arboretum, if available. Line drawing of an osage orange leaf

This week, we meet the Osage Orange or Maclura pomifera, also known as the hedge apple. While this species is not native to Indiana, it is found throughout the state, where it was planted for fence rows and fence post plantings due to its decay resistant wood.

The leaves of Osage orange are oval shaped with pointed tips held alternately on slender twigs. The dark, glossy green leaves have smooth margins and no lobes. The twigs will often have sharp thorns more than half an inch long that are found where the leaves emerge and where the buds are located.

The bark of this species has a light gray surface with an orange undercoloring, which is distinctly furrowed and has a somewhat fibrous appearance. Osage orange is often multi-stemmed and spreads out over a large area.  Osage orange fruit

The fruit of Osage orange, produced by female trees, also is a key identifying characteristic, as it resembles a large yellow-green-colored bumpy orange or a bumpy green apple. The fruit is four to six inch in diameter and has many folds, bumps and crevices, which has led to the description of it looking like a brain. Osage oranges have a sticky, milky sap on the inside.

Osage orange trees, which grow to 20 to 40 feet tall, are found in moist, well-drained soils, but are tolerant of alkaline soil, clay, dry sites, occasional drought and flooding. The natural range of the Osage orange is Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma and the region surrounding the Ozark mountains, although it has been planted in nearly every one of the lower 48 states.

The Morton Arboretum states that female Osage orange trees need a male tree pollinator in order to produce fruit.

Osage orange seedlings were planted close together to create an impenetrable barrier or fence before theWood panels from an Osage orange tree development of barbed wire. It also was utilized as a hedge-row or windbreak as part of many conservation programs in the 1930s.

The wood was also used for fence posts, wagon wheel parts because of its strength, but it can be difficult to work with because of its hardness.

This species also has been used to make archery bows, musical instruments, tool handles and turnings. Osage orange is also an excellent firewood as it has one of the highest BTU yields of any native Indiana tree.

Other Resources:
Fruit Like a Brain and Wood Like Steel – Got Nature article
You Say Hedge-Apple, I Say Osage Orange!, Indiana Yard and Garden – Purdue Consumer Horticulture.
Osage Orange, The Wood Database
Hardwoods of the Central Midwest: Osage orange
ID That Tree: Osage orange
Morton Arboretum: Osage orange
The Woody Plant Seed Manual, U.S. Forest Service
Fifty Trees of the Midwest app for the iPhone, The Education Store
Native Trees of the Midwest, The Education Store
Shrubs and Woody Vines of Indiana and the Midwest, The Education Store
Investing in Indiana Woodlands, The Education Store
Forest Improvement Handbook, The Education Store
ID That Tree, Purdue Extension-Forestry & Natural Resources (FNR) YouTube playlist
Woodland Management Moment , Purdue Extension-FNR YouTube playlist

Featured Stories

Photos from the Costa Rica Study Abroad trip: a capuchin white-faced monkey, a strawberry poison dart frog and an American pygmy kingfisher; a selfie including many students; the volcano as seen from LaFortuna, and a beach.
FNR Students Reflect on Costa Rica Study Abroad Trip

Imagine waking up to the sounds of nature, seeing amazing sights and experiencing an incredible...

Read More
May 2023 graduates: Brynna Buckmaster, Isaac DiDomenico, Madison Kresse and Scott Herman
FNR Celebrates Spring 2023 Graduates

In May 2023, FNR conferred undergraduate degrees to 46 undergraduate students and six graduate...

Read More
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant's Ben Szczygiel with Chuoy the buoy; the Natural Resources Teachers Institute at the Hardwood Ecosystem Experiment; Drs. Bryan Pijanowski and Jingjing Liang with their team doing the can you hear me sign in the forest
FNR Year in Review 2022: The Collaborations

Four research centers and four long-term research projects are housed within the Purdue...

Read More
Headshots of Joshua Tellier and Scott Koenigbauer, who were honored for their research by the International Association for Great Lakes Research
Tellier, Koenigbauer Honored by International Association for Great Lakes Research

Two Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources affiliated researchers will be honored for their work...

Read More
Dr. Jing Jing Liang with computer servers.
Future of AI in Natural Resource Management: Self-Learning Forest Growth Model

Whether we realize it or not, artificial intelligence—AI—plays a big role in our...

Read More
Mike Saunders with a student on a prescribed fire; Liz Flaherty holding small mammal traps; Paris Collingsworth on a boat
Collingsworth, Flaherty and Saunders Earn Promotions

Purdue FNR congratulates three faculty members on their promotions, which were announced at the...

Read More
To Top