The Osage orange, Maclura pomifera, is named for the Osage Indians that lived from the tree’s native selection and to get the scent of its fruit. Originally found in an area of southern Oklahoma and northern Texas, farmers climbed Osage orange from the Plains states as a natural fence. The tree grows rapidly and adapts well to most soil conditions. The Osage orange might be found at USDA Hardiness plant hardiness zones 5 through 9. Other common names for this species comprise “bois d’arc” and hedge apple.
Old Tree Size
Most Osage orange trees grow to a height of approximately 35 feet, even though the tree can reach 50 foot heights under optimal growing conditions. The tree’s circular, irregularly shaped crown is almost as wide as the tree is tall, with a normal spread of approximately 25 feet. Sometimes, trees may spread out up to 60 feet. Old trees have trunks as thick as two feet in diameter. Osage orange has a short lifespan compared to to other trees, only living up to about 75 years.
At 7 years old, the normal Osage orange is approximately 8 feet tall and has a spread of about 6 feet. Growth rates slow only marginally as the tree matures. The U.S. Forest Service reported that 20-year old trees located in the Great Plains had climbed an average of a foot per year. Many early settlers opted to restrict Osage orange growth, maintaining it trimmed to hedge height. Some landowners continue the clinic now as well. The plant’s thorny stems and irregular branch pattern lend nicely to forming a thick hedge.
Factors That Influence Growth
Osage orange adapts well to any soil, including alkaline soils, loam, clay and mud. It can tolerate dry conditions as well as occasional standing water at flood-prone places. The tree prefers 25 to 40 inches of precipitation annually, and grows best when residing in moist, well-drained soils. On the other hand, the plant also adapts to dry soils and survives nicely even with as little as 15 inches of annual rainfall. The Osage orange grows best as it becomes frequent waterings in its first few years.
Grow Osage orange in cuttings or from seed. Just female Osage orange trees bear fruit. The seeds are buried deep inside the plant’s 5- to 6-inch round, green fruit. The shell is tough and hard to break open. Liberating the seeds might mean soaking the fruit overnight to soften it, and then opening the ball and removing its seeds. About half of those seeds typically germinate within about 30 days. Softwood cuttings are a second method of growing Osage orange.