If Little Miss Muffet was to plant any tree it would probably be an Osage Orange as folklore declares that the fruit from the tree if sliced repels spiders. However, this has never been proven.
The Osage Orange is native to the river valleys and bottomlands. It is a thorny tree, so placement must be considered in the landscape. Osage Orange has a wide and at times irregular growth habit that provides great year round visual interest. The fruit of the tree is the key identifying feature of the species, as the fruit is a 3-6-inch diameter fruit often called hedge apples. Squirrels have learned to eat the fruit after several hard frost at which point the resinous sap has been neutralized. Historically, the fruit was a sought after food source of the Giant Sloth and the animal spread the seed throughout its territory.
The tree was used by the Osage Nation as a source for bows as the wood was extremely strong and had some flexibility allowing it to withstand heavy use, being carried through rough terrain, and still launch an arrow with great velocity. The Osage Orange was first introduced to Meriwether Lewis and is considered the greatest botanical find of the entire Lewis & Clark Expedition. The Osage Orange was called the tree that tamed the west as it was used with great regularity in the Midwest and Great Plains as a living fence allowing for farmers to maintain livestock. After barbed wire was invented the tree saw a great decline and fell out of extended use. The rot resistant wood of the tree became desirous to be made into fence posts to hold the barbed wire; however, many of these posts were still green and often sprouted roots and grew. This is why today the majority of the Osage Orange that are found in and around Jefferson County are along fence lines and almost perfectly spaced.
The Osage Orange is a good wildlife tree as it provides great nesting limbs and protected areas for birds and mammals to live. The tree is a host plant to 8 species of butterflies and moths. The plant can be used to control deer traffic patterns.
The Osage Orange is a great living monument to the Lewis & Clark Expedition which is linked to the historic annuals of Jefferson County.
The Osage Orange is a dioecious species with separate male and female plants. The trees offered in the Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District Native Tree Sale are unsexed trees, so it is recommended to buy multiple trees.■