Posts Tagged ‘Osage Orange’

Osage Orange trees (Hedge Apple or one of many other names) does call to some people. Here, a spiritual sister has a moment of reverence and healing with the Dragon Tree in Kansas.

As a child growing up in the Ozarks, I loved Redbud trees. Not just their spring-budding beauty, but also the branching structure that was as fascinating as their rosy blooms. On the wooded hillside by our house, I found the perfect retreat on a slab of limestone with two Redbuds arching over. It was shady and the stone cool, making it perfect for an hour’s reading even in summer heat. I was known to lay down and admire the tree canopy against the sky while cradled by the trees and stone.

In adulthood, I’ve become fascinated by a far different kind of tree from my childhood.

Another common tree of the Ozarks is what my family called the Hedge Apple tree, or more properly the Osage Orange tree or Maclura pomifera (though it has more common names than my pets have nicknames: Prairie Hedge, Horse Apple, Bodark, Bowwood, and more). I remember these from childhood too, of course, and some of them in our nearby woods would grow covered by vines and greenbrier and form little huts we could play in. But there was a creepy aspect with their grasping branches that my imagination took in a scary direction sometimes.

A smaller Osage Orange displaying a reaching/arching branch structure. Photo by Allen Childers.

Despite how they may look, they were an important part of rural life. Hedge Apple trees are native to south-central United States, though they easily spread into much of the Midwest and were planted on the East Coast. Early farmers of the area grew the trees close together as inexpensive fencing for their herds. With the tree’s shoe-piercing thorns and often twisting branches, it made a formidable barrier. After barbed wire became available and affordable, everyone knew that hedge fence posts were the best and would last for decades. The Osage Indians made bows from the wood, which was strong, flexible, and polished well. Even today, many archers consider hedge to be the best wood for a bow.

Though the tree is useful, there’s a profound spiritual energy to it. I’ve also seen the amazing Dragon Tree, a dramatic and huge hedge at the Gaea Retreat Center in Kansas. This tree is revered, with small altars around it and little trinkets and offerings placed in the folds of its many-branched trunk. Clearly, I’m not the only one that finds them magical. Admittedly, the Dragon Tree looks to fit its name – long, angling branches reach out from a huge trunk that would take at least three people to circle it with their arms. It astounded me the first time I hiked to see it.

But there’s more to it than merely being physical impressive. These trees seem assertively protective. They emit robust and creative energy. I’ve felt this for some time, but even my boyfriend noted a group of small hedge trees while we were out on a hike outside Springfield, Missouri. He took several photos and smiled. “I think fairies live there,” he said.

The spiritual sister who took me to see the Dragon Tree for the first time also has a studding Osage Orange open their property. It almost looks like the fingers of a hand reaching up from the ground, but the center part opens up between two trunks like a portal or fairie gateway. Visitors often climb through a wild part of their yard in order to visit it, often taking pictures with this magical tree.

Yet, the Osage Orange has yet to catch the attention of those who tend to chronicle such things and provide correspondences for magical folk. Many writers tend to focus on the trees that are prominent in Europe, presumably because many modern Pagan and Western mystery practices originate there. For example, I can find quite a bit of magical information about the Yew tree but almost nothing about the Osage Orange – yet I cannot recall seeing a Yew tree in person – ever.

So, I considered the feelings that came from being around the trees, which for me was a combination of fierce protectiveness, groundedness, wildness, creativity, and adaptability. They range from small and scrappy to huge and impressive. These aren’t lush, beautiful trees that inspire sylvan poetics, but they are striking and capture the imagination, all the same. It would be easy to imagine a Hedge Apple getting up and walking off like a character from the novel Uprooted or A Monster Calls.

Thistle (the author) by the Dragon Tree.

There is a bit of folklore and mundane facts about the Osage Orange that can be considered too.

Probably the best-known folklore about the tree is that its round, green hedge apples, when placed by doors and in the corners of closets, will keep spiders out of your house. It’s certainly a popular folk remedy against spiders where I grew up. Scientifically, it’s questionable. Hedge apples do contain tetrahydroxystilbene, an anti-fungicide. Not insecticide, mind you, but we also know that many humans have skin alleries to the hedge apple’s white sap. Who knows, maybe spiders are allergic to it as well?

Folklore about the fruit of the Osage Orange is abundant, including that they keep away spiders.

And whatever you do, do not take the name “apple” in hedge apple too seriously. The fruit of the Osage Orange is actually poisonous, so don’t get tempted to see what they taste like.

The only other folklore I could find on the tree centered on weather prediction. If Hedge Apple trees produce more fruit than normal, drop the apples later than normal, or are larger than normal, we will have a cold and snowy winter.

Another key trait of the Osage Orange’s wood is that it is extremely resistant to rot, which is why they make great fence posts. Before metal posts were cheap and convenient, hedge wood made posts that wouldn’t rot for decades (if you’ve ever dug post holes, you know you want to do that as little as possible). The wood was also used for ship masts for this same reason. As a child, I remember seeing hedge posts that looked so weathered and dry on the outside that I thought they would fall over with a push. Usually, you could hit those things with a bat and not budge them.

What I find intriguing is though its wood is so long lasting, the tree itself only lives 75 years on average. In tree years, this is not long-lived. That’s almost the same lifespan as modern humans. Perhaps this is part of the spiritual connection, for though the Osage Orange is rooted and grounded like any other tree, they do not see centuries go by as do Redwoods, Oaks, and some other Elder trees. Perhaps some of that fierce protectiveness I sensed is from knowing that its life is short by comparison and that life needs be both experienced and protected.

Another factoid: in studies, Osage Orange produces more BTUs when it is burned than other domestic hardwoods. This makes it a great choice for fuel if it is available. It might also explain the energy that comes off these dramatic tree. Thoughts?

A Osage Orange boline and chalice handmade by friends are among my favorite magical tools.

Though my infatuation could be considered just that, it does seem like the Universe backs me up. Two of my favorite magical tools, my chalice and boline, were both made from that wood. The chalice, made by another spiritual sister’s husband  and a man I respect greatly, turned it from the wood. Years later, I sent a photo of a boline to a coworker who dabbled in forging blades, hinting that if he ever made a blade like it I would buy it. He promptly decided to try it as an experiment, and – without even asking my preference – chose Osage Orange for the handle. They are both solid and beautiful pieces handmade by people I know, which amps up their special factor already, but the wood definitely helps.

So, what does the tree represent magically or spiritually? For those who like correspondences, the magical/spiritual qualities I’ve honed in on for the Osage Orange are: Protection, Endurance, Practical Creativity, and Flexibility. I’m sure there’s more one could deduce, but too much deduction tends to get my head out of the spiritual aspect of what I’m doing, so I’ll leave it to others to think of something to add.

Do any of you have experience with the Osage Orange/Hedge Apple/whatever you call it? What do you sense from its spiritual presence?

Until next time, brightest blessings!

Thistle

 

Sources:

https://mdc.mo.gov/conmag/1995/11/enduring-osage-orange

https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/1997/10-10-1997/hedgeapple.html

https://www.news-leader.com/story/sports/outdoors/2016/09/14/osage-orange-trees-purpose-evolved-history-developed/90262216/

https://www.wood-database.com/osage-orange/

 

 

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