OSAGE ORANGE

BOTANICAL NAME: Maclura pomifera of the Family Moraceae

Osage orange is unique in that it is monotypic, a genus with only one species, (Maclura pomifera) although at one time there were many species of Maclura. It is a member of the Breadfruit family.

WHOA ! The statement above was based on (OK, I don't remember WHAT it was based on, but I thought it authoritative at the time) which I now know to be blatantly incorrect. The genus Macura has several species, the most notable one other than M. pomifera being M. tinctoria, which is now listed on this site as Argentine osage orange (aka fustic in the USA).

COMMON NAMES: Osage orange, bois d’arc, bodark, bowdark, bow wood, hedge apple, mock orange, prairie hedgeplant, yellowwood, Osage

The trees originally grew in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, and the tree takes its name and its identity from its early use for making archery bows and war clubs by the Osage Indians, who occupied the area.

the “orange” in its name refers to its very distinctive greenish-yellow fruit that loosely resembles an orange in shape and texture, but is, in fact, neither orange in color nor edible.

According to Donald Culross Peattie, author of the book A Natural History of Western Trees, the early French explorers called it bois d’arc, which means bow wood, and somewhere along the line the wood also picked up the name Bowdark.

TYPE: not reported

COLOR: vivid lemon-yellow to yellowish-orange color, sometimes greenish yellow. Over time the color will mellow from a bright yellow to a more golden yellow or honey/tan. Outstanding for contrast in laminations.

GRAIN: tight grain, but thin sheets tend to snap easily along the grain if pressured. May have strong and interesting, but not really exotic, grain patterns.

TEXTURE: Very hard, heavy, strong, resilient (it is used to make bows) along its length but somewhat brittle across the grain.

PROPERTIES / WORKABILITY: sands very easily, especially for such a hard wood. Can be brought to a moderately high natural gloss finish. Good turnery wood.

DURABILITY: exceptionally durable.

Reportedly made exceptional railroad ties back in the 1870s, proving much more durable than the ties made from oak, chestnut and catalpa, which showed wear after two or three years. Osage orange ties, checked after 21 years, were as good as when they were cut.

FINISH: Takes a moderately high natural gloss if fine sanded. The color with change significantly over time, if untreated, from bright yellow to more of a golden yellow

STABILITY: very stable.

BENDING: I have not seen any reports on its suitablity for furniture bending, but since it is used to make bows, it is known to be fairly flexible.

ODOR: The fruit of the tree has been found to be a natural cockroach repellent, due to its strong cedar-like aroma that the bugs dislike.

A single piece of the fruit in a room will drive the bugs away, according to Peattie, and a distillate of the fruit has been developed that is stronger and even more effective in insect control.

SOURCES: The Western United States

USES: wheels, archery bows, insulator pins, sucker-rod guides, dyewood, turnings, laminations, and decorative novelties.

Reportedly, Osage orange was a popular wood for pavement blocks and wheel stock in the old West. “The first chuckwagon ever built, according to a well-founded tradition, was that invented by Charles Goodnight (a famous Texan cattleman) and it was built of seasoned bois d’arc, in order to withstand the terrible usage of bumping over the far-flung Goodnight empire that covered much of the Panhandle in early days,” Peattie said. Peattie cites several sources as to the excellence of the wood for bows and war clubs and its value to neighboring tribes: “The reputation of the Osage’s own bow wood spread widely among the Plains Indians.” Peattie said that it is documented that the Montana Blackfeet had “prized bows of Osage orange, which they obtained by barter” as did the Kiowas, who “carried superb bows of bois d’arc, ornamented with brass nails, silver plates, and wampum beads.”

TREE: Can grow as tall as 60 feet but generally are much shorter. Logs are usually 6 to 8 feet long and 12 to 16 inches in diameter. It is a deciduous tree that grows in the southern and central United States. Its wood is similar to locust, and its primary assets are its strength and resilience — features which led to its early use by local Indians for bows.

WEIGHT: about 50 pounds per cubic foot

DRYING: no literature reports but one of my vendors tells me it drys well in air but when he tries to kiln dry it he gets up to 50% loss due to warping and splitting.

AVAILABILITY: fairly readily available, but usually only in modest sizes. Turning stock is readily available.

COST: Moderately expensive. Expect to pay around $8/BF for good quality.

COMMENTS:

My experience has been that even the best suppliers tend to ship some pieces which have serious flaws (mostly large knotholes). Not a wood to buy without having seen at least a picture of what you're buying.

I recommend it for its color in small laminated projects and childrens toys.

web quotes:
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The bark of the Osage orange yields a substance used to tan leather as well as a yellow dye

one user reportedly made a wedge from it that he uses in place of a steel wedge when splitting oak.