Osage orange trees


I’m going to start a new topic here to answer @tennessean 's question in the hopes that I’m not the only one on the forum interested in osage orange trees.

Thornless osage oranges have been selected for use as street/shade trees in urban/suburban plantings, but my interest in the thornless cultivars is just for ease of management and handling. The little plantation I already have planted is all seedlings, but I intentionally planted them in the middle of the woods (surrounded by woods on all four sides) and didn’t bother make the aisles between my rows to where I could get a tractor down the aisles because I’m afraid of puncturing tractor tires if I were to drive between or next to the osage oranges. Thornless cultivars would do away with those limitations and make it easier to handle the logs and branches at whatever point I begin harvesting them (as well as any pruning work I’d do in the meantime.)

If I can sell specialty staves to people wanting to make their own bows for a price that would make it worth my while, I’d certainly consider that – I don’t know how many years it will be before I have trees the size I’d want to harvest, but I’ll have plenty of time to explore marketing options in the meantime – but what I’m mainly thinking at this point is that highly rot-resistant posts (and possibly even small saw logs) would be very useful to me, if not also to sell.

What I’m really hoping to do is to establish a plantation that I (and my son, grandsons that aren’t born yet…) can harvest at a small enough size that they’ll stump sprout after harvest and then rapidly regenerate. I’m hopeful the regrowth from stump sprouts will effectively save me at least 5 years compared to setting out 1-2 year old seedlings, not only making future harvests more frequent but also outgrowing and shading out any weed trees or other competition with much less help from me.

I have pretty limited forestry knowledge, but based on what little I know, I’m thinking 9-11" in diameter would be a good harvest size. I’ve heard that larger trees don’t regenerate from stump sprouts as well. I’m hoping seedlings will reach that size in 20-25 years from planting, but I don’t really know if that’s at all realistic. 10" in 20 years would be 1/4" average growth rings. The seedlings seem to be growing pretty vigorously so far, even despite the pretty heavy weed pressure, and hopefully they’ll be shading out the weeds before too long. If 20-25 years is realistic, I’m hoping 15-20 years would be attainable with stump sprouts.

Osage oranges definitely don’t have the best timber form, so I plan to do some pruning and maybe even some staking. I’m sure a lot of what I’m doing won’t be worth the time, but I feel like I need to experiment to find out what is and what isn’t worth doing, and I’m fine with that. I’m hopeful that it will all be very worthwhile over the long-term, though, assuming one or two generations continue with this project after me. Of the thornless cultivars at Brenton Arboretum in central Iowa – if you’re in the area, go visit! I really enjoyed my visit there – the cultivars that looked most interesting to me were Denmark, K-3, White Shield, Park, and Dawson. I hope to get some of those started next year (2019) and figure out a good way to multiply them: layering or rooting cuttings or maybe grafting and then burying the graft union… such that stump sprouts would still be thornless.


If you can get them on their own roots somehow I think they will sprout from root cuttings. Where my brother works they doze them out when clearing fields and I believe he mentioned that the roots left in the ground will regenerate


Now that you say that, I feel like I’ve heard something like that before.

How does it work, growing things from root cuttings, though? I assume people on this forum have grown other species of trees from root cuttings. Does a severed piece of root simply grow into a separate tree. I guess I can imagine a tree like ailanthus doing that, but it doesn’t seem like a normal thing most trees would do.


I tried it on some cherries but had zero takes, I think one thing to consider is that roots left behind from dozing could be quite large with significant stores to give it lots of time to regenerate.


This was interesting and addressed a couple of things , it talked about how long it takes to regenerate from roots to post size and also noted that posts put in green with bark on could occasionally develop roots and sprout out, so maybe easy to grow from cuttings


Info on propagation


After you harvest the Osage its best to protect it from insects. Bugs will lay eggs in the sapwood. The eggs will hatch out into borers and ruin the wood for uses such as bows. Don’t just place the Osage in a woodshed or such. It really has to be somewhere where the bugs cannot get to it. And don’t just spray it with insecticide. The bark can stay on. Those borers love Osage. I learned the hard way.

Also, I would coat the ends of staves, billets or posts with Shellac or something similar to prevent the ends from cracking due to drying. Even drying is preferable.

I have a bunch of Osage collected 25 years ago stored. Many bowyers such as the late Jay Massey preferred Osage that had seasoned at least 10 years. Osage toughens with age. Other bowyers such as Tim Baker disputes that by saying that Osage becomes brittle with age. So I don’t know. I just know that I have always been fascinated by the wood.

Tension wood with wide growth rings is always the best for building bows. Compression wood is less desirable.

Jay Massey’s book “The Bowyer’s Craft” is a excellent read whether you are into building bows or not. He writes a lot about Osage as that was his favorite wood for bows.

Years ago I planted Osage seed for shrubbery in front of a large window in my house. With the thorns and all I figured that it would be a deterrence for a burglar breaking into my house. Every three or four years I cut it down. It has no problem in growing back from stumps.

Although I have a few Osage posts that I always intend to use for stuff such as trellis stakes, I never do. I guess the reason is is that I can’t drive a staple or nail into it. That Osage is tough.

If I was planting a plantation of Osage I would want it in a real sunny spot. Osage trees love the sun. They don’t grow very fast in the shade.


This is different Osage than I’m used to. Ours are gnarled, windblown, things with deadwood all over rarely 4" in diameter. The ‘posts’ from hedge apple never rot but are usually broken branches. Different critters. Hard on tractor tires.


If rot resistant fence posts are what you are after ,I find black locust to be a good choice . A nitrogen fixer , good bee plant , grow fast ,straight , and tall,
They are also thorny ,especially when young.
Seed is cheap.$19.00 lb.= 24,000 seed ( Sheffields ,etc ) scarification ;…
Soak seed in sulfuric acid ( battery acid) 20 minutes , rinse well, then add baking soda , to nutralize ,and make them safe to handle. Plant.


Black locust is a wonderful firewood, makes a beautiful full sized tree, but late to leaf out up here and hugely given to suckering if cut back! Stuff burns like good coal. Hard on chisels and such. I suppose much is the same of osage orange, which my brother in Kansas calls “hedge”. I think Dad said his father made bows of it, as well as out of hickory, and I guess maybe some cedar (“quick but brittle”). Must be at least a few varieties of wood called osage orange. And I’m confused about what differences there are in woods I’ve known variously as ironwood, osage orange, and bowdark or bois d’ arc, as well as hedge. Anybod want to straighten me out?


You may be close to their hardiness limit. Here they are relatively short and knarled but the main trunks get big. An old man I worked for when I was a kid would cut corner posts that were two foot diameter and long enough to put four feet in the ground. He used a backhoe to dig the holes , kind of over kill for a corner but that’s how he did it.


I think you can graft a type of fruit called “che” to an osage orange tree. I’ve tried it before. It was really good. Kind of like a huge mulberry.
John S


[quote]ironwood, osage orange, and bowdark or bois d’ arc, as well as hedge.[/quote] These are common names for Osage Orange though I have also seen black locust called ironwood. Simple rule, if it is hard as nails and orange inside, it is Osage Orange.


You know it is Osage orange when you drive a staple in it and it looks like an “s” on the head when you are done.