Osage Orange, the name in general use for a tree of the genus Madura, closely allied to the mulberry (morus); it is the M. aurantiaca. The tree having been first found in the country of the Osage Indians, this fact and the appearance of the fruit are recognized in the name. The French finding that the Indians made their bows of it, called it bois d'arc (bow wood), which, corrupted into bodock, is the common name in the southwest. It is also one of the several trees which are sometimes called yellow wood. The tree is commonly from 20 to 30 ft. high, but in the rich bottom lands of Texas and Arkansas it sometimes reaches 60 ft. The leaves are lance-ovate, entire, and with the upper surface very smooth and shiny. The flowers are dioecious, the sterile in small racemes of about a dozen minute, four-parted flowers, the fertile in a dense spherical cluster about the size of a cherry; each flower consisting of an unequally four-parted calyx and a single pistil, the style to which is nearly an inch long; these styles projecting all over the surface give the cluster the appearance of a globular mass of threads. As the fruit enlarges, the parts of the flowers of which it is composed become fleshy and blended in such a confused mass that it is difficult to distinguish them.
When ripe, the fruit is the size of an orange, irregularly spherical, and with the surface tessellated with small protuberances, becoming yellow when ripe, and when fully mature somewhat pulpy, sweetish, but acrid and inedible; when cut open the mass shows the remains of the flowers radiating from the centre, and the seeds, which are about the size of orange seeds. The leaves and all parts of the tree have a milky juice, and this, together with its close relationship with the mulberry, early suggested the use of the foliage as food for silkworms. The re-ports of experiments with them are variable; while some found the leaves a poor substitute for the mulberry, others assert that the worms fed upon them give a better silk. The wood is of a fine yellow color, close-grained, hard, strong, and elastic; these qualities and its great durability make it one of the most valuable of our native woods. It is said by those who live where the tree is abundant, that while the exposed wood may gradually waste away at the surface from the action of the weather, a rotten or decayed stick is never seen; the wood changes but little with alternate wetting and drying, and is regarded as especially valuable for wheels, and as it will take a fine polish it is suitable for ornamental work.
The wood abounds in a yellow coloring matter, and the bark of the root is of an intense orange color; a related Central and South American species (M. tinctoria) yields the well known yellow dyewood, fustic. The bark of the Osage orange affords a fibre similar to that of the paper mulberry. (See Mulberry.) Though not found growing wild far above the Arkansas river, the Maclura is hardy much further north, and endures the winter perfectly well in the climate of New York city. It is rarely seen as an ornamental tree, but it has much to commend it to the planter; it does not make so handsome a head as some other trees, but the deep green and shining leaves are more beautiful than those of the orange, and in this respect exceed those of any other hardy deciduous tree; and with the large and abundant fruit added to the fine foliage, the tree becomes highly ornamental on the lawn. The great value of the tree is as a hedge plant, on account of its general freedom from disease and insects, the fine green of its foliage, its thorny branches, and the manner in which it bears severe clippings.
It may be propagated from cuttings of the roots; but for hedging, plants raised from the seed are preferred. (See Hedge).
Osage Orange (Madura aurantiaca).
Fruit cut to show the structure.