Osage-orange is the sole surviving member of the genus Maclura — of its many relatives from past geologic eras, only fossils remain. It is also, however, a member of the family Moraceae, which encompasses the mulberries and the figs, as well as a large number of tropical and semitropical trees. When mature, the Osage orange measures from 10 to 50 feet tall and has a trunk 1 to 2 feet in diameter. Its branches form an even, round crown. Between May and July, the species sports tiny greenish flowers. Other distinguishing characteristics of the Osage orange include deeply furrowed, braided looking, dark orange bark; long (3- to 5-inch), shiny, egg-shaped, dark green leaves, which are pointed at one end; and (perhaps most significantly) many sharp, steel strong thorns that make this tree a formidable barrier. The name of the tree comes from the Osage tribe, which lived near the home range of the tree, and the aroma of the fruit after it is ripe. (Find one of the fruit that has been sitting in the sun on a balmy Indian Summer day and notice the pleasant, orange-peel smell of the skin.) Not all of the trees will have fruit because Osage-orange are either male or female, and only the females will bear fruit. The fruit of the Osage-orange – the so-called “hedge apple” – stands out vividly in an autumn treeline. It is a large, dense, green wrinkled ball up to 6″ in diameter that often persists on the tree after the leaves have fallen off. In good years, the branches will bend low with the combined weight of these heavy fruit. They have a sticky, white juice within them. Squirrels love to eat the fruit.
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