Uses of the Osage-Orange
The wood of the Osage-orange is golden yellow or bright orange when first cut, but turns brown on exposure. The wood is extremely hard, heavy, tough, and durable. It also shrinks or swells very little compared to the wood of other trees. The wood is used for fence posts, insulator pins, treenails, furniture, and archery bows. In fact, many archers consider the wood of the Osage-orange to be the world's finest wood for bows. (The name bodark is from the French bois d'arc mean "bow wood.") Also, a bright yellow dye can be extracted from the wood.
It is the fruit of the Osage-orange that most individuals find intriguing. In the hands of a child, the fruit can become dangerous weapons. They are a nuisance in the home landscape. The "hedge apples" are not an important source of food for wildlife as most birds and animals find the fruit unpalatable. (However, the thorny trees do provide nesting and cover for wildlife.)
The use of hedge apples as a pest solution is communicated as a folk tale complete with testimonials about apparent success. However, there
is an absence of scientific research and therefore no valid evidence to confirm the claims of effectiveness. Although insect deterrent compounds have been extracted from hedge apples in laboratory studies, these do not provide a logical explanation about why hedge apples would work as claimed. At this time, there is nothing to recommend the use of hedge apples for pest control.
While the Osage-orange is hardy in southern Iowa (USDA Hardiness Zone 5), it is not a suitable tree for the home landscape because of its large fruit and sharp thorns. Attempts have been made by horticulturists to identify and select male, thornless cultivars. Unfortunately, no cultivar has proven to be completely thornless. Until a true thornless cultivar is found, the Osage-orange is probably best suited for wildlife plantings in rural areas.
The milky juice present in the stems and fruit of the Osage-orange may cause irritation to the skin. While the fruit have been suspected of being poisonous to livestock, studies conducted in several states have been negative. However, the fruit may cause death in ruminants by lodging in the esophagus and preventing eructation or release of ruminal gases.