16 October 2013

Bodark or Monkey Balls - Osage Orange fruit

With cooler temperatures and fewer hours of daylight, the Osage Orange trees are dropping their fruit. As the fruit rots, squirrels eat the seeds, insects come to eat the fruit and the birds eat the insects.  Though they are called many names,  hedge apples, bowwood, bois d'arc (bow wood) bodark, geelhout, mock orange, horse apple, naranjo chino, wild orange and yellow-wood, the Latin name is Maclura pomifera. This mulberry family member was named after William Maclure, an American geologist.

The fruit is widely sold at farmer and craft markets for use as a fall decoration on the front porch. Others put them in the pantry, behind furniture and around the outside of their house foundation for their use as a natural extermination method. The active chemical is a fungicide, tetrahydroxystilbene.

Here's how to dry them to use inside against spiders http://www.gardentrappings.com/diy-drying-osage-oranges-or-hedge-apples

The long sharp thorns on the stems have made the trees a natural barrier shrub and they were widely used as fence rows before early ranchers could afford fencing.

To make a hedge row, take summer branch buttings or root cuttings, dip them in rooting hormone and plant in moist sand. Keep them in a greenhouse or cold frame while they root.

Jeanie Parker in the The Post Gazette reported that Jeff Goodwin, a Massachusetts high school biology teacher, planted Osage orange trees with his students. He let the fruit rot and picked out the seeds. Then, he put the seeds in the freezer for three months to simulate winter. He planted the seeds in his school's greenhouse, and most of the seeds grew.

In 1866 The Osage County (Burlingame Kansas) Chronicle ran a story about how to grow an Osage Orange Hedge.  Here are the tips:

First. Sprouting the seed, soak the seed in soft water six or eight days, standing where it will keep warm, changing the water often to prevent fermentation, say every two days, then drain off the water and mix the seed in an equal quantity of sand earth, and let it remain in a warm place, kept moist and stirred once a day until the seed begins to sprout, then sow immediately.

Plant the seed about good corn planting time, in good mellow, rich, sandy soil. If not sufficiently sandy to keep from baking make it so by mixing in sand. Sow in drills proper distance apart for convenient tending with horse or hoe, as you wish. Put seed in drill at least one inch apart, and one to one and a half inches deep, according to soil and weather.

Keep them in a cellar or bury in the ground below frost, having tied them in bundles of about 100 plants, putting fine sand or earth on them sufficient to prevent them from either heating or drying.
If not dug until spring, protect them thro' the winter by throwing a light furrow to them on both sides, or cover with straw. Before digging, cut off the tops quite to the ground. Dig with either spade or plow (if you have not a tree digger) leaving the root six to eighty inches long.

We have been frequently asked why the seed may not be sown on the line where the hedge is to stand. Our answer is trouble of weeding and caring for the young plants the first season in such an extended position, would be greater than the labor of transplanting. Besides, it would be almost impossible to avoid gaps and irregular distances between the plants. Again the soil is not likely to be so favorable for the growth of the young plants throughout the entire length of the field as may be had in the garden or elsewhere. Finally, we have never seen a good hedge fence started from from the seed in the hedge row, and we have never known of Osage Orange failing to make a good fence when treated according to our instructions in planting hedge and trimming.

The HedgeApple site, http://hedgeapple.com/ has more information on all things Bodark.
Planting Hedge Trees - Old Timers told our friend Clark Knapp that they started Hedge Rows by dumping the Hedgeapples in a barrel, letting them sit over the winter allowing them to freeze and thaw until spring when they were soft. They then mashed them, added water and poured the slurry into a plowed furrow and cover about a inch or two. They kept the hedgeapples moist during the winter by drilling holes and letting about 2 inches of water stand in the bottom (if all the fruit is left submerged for extended length of time, they will not sprout). Mr Knapp is only 86 years old, and claims he is a few days away from being an Old Timer himself. I assume this method would be a good technique if one would want the hedge row to act as a fence. Mr. Knapp knows his business. Picture at right was taken on his farm. I tried this planting technique last spring and it works (over 300 seedlings in a 8 ft hedgerow). 

This the results of an experiment using Mr. Knapp's explanation of how the hedge rows were planted in the late 1800's and early 1900's.
  • hedgeapples in the fall after they have fallen.
  • Placed them in a container that allowed water to collect in the bottom inch but not any higher. This keeps them damp but does not kill the seeds above the water line.
  • Left out through the winter allowing it to freeze and let the rain water to come in.
  • In early spring I mashed the remaining slurry and planted in a 8 foot shadow trench in my garden.


Stacey said...

They are horse apples to us. :) I haven't honestly heard of someone planting them on purpose. Your little history lesson is so interesting.

Dianne Benedict said...

My daughter and I were told by a friend that "mock oranges" are a natural fertilizer. So, we found a healthy tree that had dropped hundreds of mock oranges on the ground. We drove our cars on top of the fruit in order to crush them and get them ready to fold into our organic garden. All seemed well until a few sprouts with thorns appeared throughout the garden where we had planted seeds. We would disgard the thorny sprouts as they came up during the entire growing season. We harvested our crop and left the garden to it's own through out the Fall, Winter and Spring. My daughter moved, and we didn't plant anything elso the following Spring. But, there were hundreds of sprouting plants with thorns on them growing in the garden. As a result of these plants, I didn't want to wade into the densely populated thorny crop to plant another garden. Hurricane Harvey just came through Tennessee, and enabled the soil to be loose. My husband cut down the four feet high plants using his chain saw. Then, he borrowed a farm strength tiller to try to get the roots dislodged. As I write, he is trying to get many of the remaining roots dislodged with a sharp hoe and pitch fork.
Please take my advice: Never use "mock oranges" to fertilize your garden.

vesa versa said...

Fascinating after growing up in the south all my life I first come across this fruit lying in the middle of a old plantation road .Never knew the name or use for the plant .

Martha Stoodley said...

Dianne - We've never tried to make them grow. They were here when we bought the house. The squirrels break them open and eat their fill, then the grackles come and eat the rest of the seeds, leaving few on the ground in tact. The rest of them? I pick them up and throw them on the burn pile!