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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Hedge apples - friend or foe?

Hedge apple

I found my first hedge apple on the road this morning. If you live in the middle of the US, you’re probably familiar with hedge apples (or hedge balls) – those grapefruit-sized knobby green balls that fall from the hedge trees (also called Osage Orange).

September is their “falling off the tree” month and I’m once again questioning their purpose in the great scheme of nature.

As a child, I learned that farmers used to plant hedgerows as a windbreak and instead of building fences. With the thick branches and long thorns, it successfully kept livestock out.

The hedge tree is a cousin to the mulberry. The trees can be either male or female, with only the female producing its fruit.

Are hedge apples good for pest control? The debate is ongoing. People place them around their foundations and in their basements to keep the little critters (spiders, cockroaches and such) away. I can remember my dad and uncles using them. If you own a pet, they may be good for flea control.

“All they’re good for is choking cows!” I’ve heard this comment from more than one farmer. The hedge apples aren’t poisonous but they do choke livestock by blocking the esophagus.

If you don’t want to pick them off the ground, you may find them for sale at your local farmers’ market.

Whatever their purpose, hedge apples appear every summer and fall off the trees every fall. If they can keep spiders away, I’m a fan.

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