How Do Ya Like Them Apples?
Horse apple trees, also known as Osage orange trees or Bois D’Arc trees, produce neither apples or oranges but rather a green brain-looking fruit. Horse apples are in the eye of the beholder according to who you are talking to. East Texans and their neighbors in Arkansas refer to the fruit as horse apples, while most people refer to horse apples when mentioning the remains after a parade in East Texas.
Horse apples, often called hedge apples outside of East Texas and Arkansas, are an odd-looking, tasteless fruit with a long, long history in the Deep South. Horse apples have historically been used to repel insects throughout history. The seeds of the fruit are edible, but they are better known as natural insect repellents. Recent research conducted at Penn State shows that horse apples actually have a tiny amount of chemicals that repel cockroaches, spiders and fleas giving new life to the old wives’ tale.
One Cushing resident said she recalled seeing fallen horse apples as a child. She said they called them “alien eggs.” Others who recall seeing horse apple trees in their youth said they lobbed them back and forth, taking turns hitting them like softballs until the green balls burst and slung white sap everywhere.
Horse apples grow to be seven to 15 cm in diameter, and are filled with sticky white latex sap. During the fall, the fruit turns a bright yellow-green color and has a faint odor, similar to that of oranges. There is no close relation to the orange citrus fruit; however horse apples are a member of the mulberry family.
Horses and cows will actually eat the fruit, but numerous bovine and equine deaths have been attributed to horse apples becoming lodged in an animal’s throat. Horse and cattle owners generally remove horse apple trees from land grazed by livestock to deter choking deaths.
The bark from Boise D’Arc tree has been used to feed silkworms and a yellow die has been made from the root bark. The bark of the trunk has been used for tanning leather. The bright orange wood can be used for fence posts and construction material because it takes forever to rot.
Bois D’Arc wood is durable and some East Texans who have removed these trees say the wood is so tough it will cause a chainsaw to throw sparks. The orange-colored wood can be used as slow burning firewood, with great heat value. Early settlers and Indians often harvested the dense wood for tools such as bows and war clubs. Legend holds that barbed wire evolved from the thorns of the Bois D’Arc tree. Before fences were strung, these thorny trees were often planted to serve as barrier, and also doubled as a wind break.
Anyone interested in trying horse apple repellent should collect fallen horse apples and allow them to ripen naturally. Place the green horse apples in pie plates or aluminum bread pans to ripen. Their decaying process is believed to ward off spiders, roaches, and other insects. Under the right conditions the horse apples could last for several months.