(Originally published in the Piedmont Virginian) By L. Jonas
A small tree, known to early French explorers as "Boise d'Arc," is generally called Osage orange, or hedge apple.
Its French name is well-deserved, since this is the best American wood I know of for hunting bows. Until laminated fiberglass and wood came on the scene, many archers spent long hours whittling down a strip of this hard and resilient wood, till the cast was right. The bows looked handsome, too, especially when the tips of cow's horns were used on the ends, where grooves were cut for the bowstring.
The tree was originally a native of Oklahoma and Arkansas but when the pioneers discovered what an effective hedge it made, it was widely transplanted through the Midwest and the East.
Effective is the right word for it, too! It grows quite well closely spaced, and its inch-long thorns can repel any large farm animal.
Old hedge fences can still be seen in the Piedmont, and some of them still mark the course of old Civil War roads, such as long County Road 628, near High Point, where the road was straightened some years ago.
Not only were the thorns useful for keeping animals confined, but the hedges also had their good points as far as the hunter and nature-lover were concerned.
Rabbits found them a safe refuge, especially when some of the trees had been cut, leaving a stump surrounded by living "barbed wire." Quail still parade along these hedge rows, and squirrels find much of their early winter feed in the large fruits. Birds such as the evening grosbeak apparently like the seeds, also.
These fruits also make good bowling balls for the young country boy who doesn't mind staining his hands with the milky sap. It is possible that, if it ever occurs to the medical scientists, this juice will be found to be valuable, perhaps for removing some warts, like other lactiferous plants (milkweed and others).
The thorns do present a problem where the tree sprouts up in some place where it is not needd or wanted. however, it may be that the insecticidal and insect-repelling properties of the fruit will compensate for this.
Reports are beginning to pile up of persons who put one or two of these fragrant balls in their kitchen to drive out cockroaches and other pests. Some of the social elite like to use them for the fragrance itself, just to make their old mansions attractive to the nose, as well as to the eyes.
The wood is a beautiful yellow, when not weathered, but it is as hard to chop as any wood known, and will chip a good axe blade, when dry. This hardness makes it a little tough to drive staples in, but the durability of the post makes up for this. Some of the posts, even when only two inches in diameters, will last 40 or 50 years. as firewood, it burns almost like hard coal-hot and lasting.
I've had problems with this tree, such as when cutting a staff for climbing, and chopping it out of the pasture, but it is still a very interesting member of the Piedmont flora, and like most other problems, if we understand how to use the best, and take care of the words points, we'll live a richer life.