Friday, December 21, 2007

Hedge-apples and Monkey brains! by Tina Clinefelter

This article explains the photo below (the large, green, brain-like fruit, called an Osage Orange!)
A recent request for information concerning a spider repellent led me on a far-ranging search of the Internet, tracking down the wily Osage orange, the fruit of Maclura pomifera.
Since Colonial times, this weird and wonderful fruit has been used to control various insect pests in the home, and now modern science is finally catching up with folk lore and discovering that, indeed, the pleasantly scented Osage orange is endowed with the chemical
2,3,4,5-tetrahydroxystilbene. The Iowa State University finds that this property repels the German cockroach, and others claim that it works against crickets, spiders, fleas, box elder bugs and ants! Merely place a whole, ripened fruit on the floor in the affected area, and it will repel for upwards of two months. Take care to protect the floor from staining, and discard when it turns completely brown.

The Osage orange tree is named for the Osage Indian tribe, and is native to a small area along the Red River Valley, in southern Oklahoma and northern Texas. The Indians used the extremely dense wood for crafting archery bows and war clubs, and it is still prized for tool handles, bows and musical instruments (harps).
It was one of the Osage orange’s other attributes, that caused it to be one of the most widely planted trees in the United States – its thorns!
Thousands of miles of closely spaced saplings were used to contain livestock, before the invention of barbed wire. A hedgerow had to be
‘horse-high, bull-strong and hog-tight’! Some very aggressive pruning formed a dense, impenetrable perimeter.
After barbed wire took over the job of enclosing land, the Osage orange trees provided the rot-resistant fence posts.

This botanical cousin of the Mulberry also has some other useful traits. The wood, for instance, yields a good yellow dye, and as firewood, it burns with a heat-producing capacity very close to coal.
I’m told that when burning fresh-cut wood, it provides entertainment with a firework-like sparkle display, and interesting flames; definitely not for closed fireplace use!
The worthy Martha Stewart even finds a decorative craft use for ‘Monkey balls’ (another common name). Wearing gloves to protect from the sticky and irritating sap, slice the fruit thinly with a serrated knife, and either air dry for a week, or dry in the oven for 5 hours, with just the pilot light on. During the drying process, shape the slices around a small ball of aluminum foil. Use in Thanksgiving table decorations, or any other way your heart desires!

I know of just one tree in this area that is a female, they being the only ones that produce fruit. If anyone wants to begin a new cottage industry, by farming these intriguing oddities, here is how to propagate them:
Soak seeds for 48 hours prior to sowing, or stratify in damp sand/peat for 30 days, or store the fruits outdoors, over winter, making sure to protect them from squirrels who ADORE them!
Sow the seeds in rows (or pots) a quarter to a half inch deep. Good luck!
Now, is there anything else you would like to know about the Osage orange?... Thanks, Pat, now…about those cookies…

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