If you are in the market for a tree that will provide excellent shade and also keep out any unwanted livestock, the osage orange tree may just do the trick. However, osage orange trees (Maclura pomifera) may not be ideal for small yards where your kiddos will be playing, as they produce a large amount of wrinkly, orange-like fruit that can be dangerous when falling from the high branches. Part of the mulberry family, they are often referred to as hedge apples. Neither a citrus nor an orange tree, the softball-sized fruit produced by female osage-orange trees closely resembles a wrinkled orange.
The fruit of osage orange trees measures up to 6 inches in diameter, is yellow-green and boasts a wrinkly outer layer. The tree itself has low, crooked branches and usually grows to 30 or 40 feet tall, but sometimes reaches heights of 60 feet. The shiny leaves are dark green and turn yellow in the fall. A dioecious tree, male and female flowers are produced on different trees in mid-May through June, and females are the lone producers of the "hedge apple" fruit.
The fruit of the female osage orange tree ripens between September and October, and contains many seeds. Female osage orange trees begin producing fruit upon sexual maturity, which usually happens by between 8 and 12 years of age. They will reach peak fruit production around 25 years old. Female trees are wind-pollinated by males and must be surrounded by several neighboring male trees in order to continue to bear fruit. Fruit produced from the female trees often leads to litter problems, which can be hazardous.
Native to Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma, osage orange trees do best in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9. They are easy to care for, and thrive in hot, dry climates and poor soils. These trees are mostly disease and pest free and can withstand harsh weather patterns, including extreme heat and wind. The osage orange tree is very adaptable, doing well in rocky, sandy, clay and organic soils as well as varying moisture levels. A very breed-able tree, it can be propagated with root cuttings and seeds.
Osage orange trees are often considered hedge trees and were historically used as a "living" fence. The tree has thorny branches, which makes it a good natural barrier for livestock. It serves as a good shade tree, but may not work great for home landscaping purposes in smaller spaces because of its height and amount of fruit production. The wood of the tree is very strong, and can be used to make archery bows, furniture or fence posts.