The Enduring Osage Orange

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Published on: Nov. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

the spring, the seeds were easily separated from the rotten flesh of the fruit.

One hedge apple would yield about 300 seeds. One bushel of hedge apples in the fall - about 80 apples - would yield 24,000 seeds the following spring. The seeds were then direct-seeded into a prepared seedbed on the farm or planted at the nursery and sold as seedlings. Planting contractors were available to establish hedge rows for 37.5 cents per rod ($120 dollars per mile).

In the 1860s, the Osage orange market went wild. Prices jumped from $8 a bushel to $50 a bushel. In one year alone, 18,000 bushels of seeds were shipped to the northwest United States - enough seed to plant over 100,000 miles of Osage orange hedge! "Hedge mania," as one newspaper called it, was rampant.

A few scattered records give a glimpse of the intense planting period in Missouri: 1844 - Osage orange had been planted in Greene County; 1851 - the first Osage orange were planted in Holt County; 1852 - Osage orange hedges planted in Cass County proved successful; 1853 - Caldwell County: "In May 1853, Mr. Terrill had the hedge fence set out on the east side of his place. The seed for this hedge was brought. . . on horseback from Texas."

By 1879 Monroe County in northeast Missouri and Nodaway County in northwest Missouri each had over 2,000 miles of hedge rows, " . . . more than any other county in Kansas, Nebraska, or Iowa."

But in 1874, Osage orange met its match. A new invention, barbed wire, was now cheaper to use for fencing. Although the Osage orange planting storm had passed, the tree had been planted in all 48 contiguous states.

By the early 1900s the Osage orange hedge was said to be generally disliked by farmers. The plants needed annual trimming, sapped water from adjacent crop land and spread to adjacent fields. The multiflora rose, being promoted by the Soil Conservation Service and Extension Service, offered an alternative stock-proof fence. (Like most exotic plant introductions, however, this species would later prove most undesirable.)

Many Osage orange hedges were removed and replaced with wire fences. Many were just left unmaintained. When the well-trimmed Osage orange hedges of the 1800s were allowed to grow, they matured into tall trees with spreading crowns. These shelterbelts provided habitat for many wildlife species. Nesting sites, roosting cover, travel lanes and food from the

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