Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Osage orange

This is the fruit of the osage orange tree, and as you might guess, it's a floral designer's dream. A friend had a bowl of these bumpy chartreuse baseballs on her Halloween table, where we gathered for wine and lasagne after the tricks and treats were done. We passed the bowl around so everyone could smell the light citrusy scent and do the tactile thing.

Osage orange

This is the fruit of the osage orange tree, and as you might guess, it's a floral designer's dream. A friend had a bowl of these bumpy chartreuse baseballs on her Halloween table, where we gathered for wine and lasagne after the tricks and treats were done. We passed the bowl around so everyone could smell the light citrusy scent and do the tactile thing.

I've seen them piled at the base of trees, eccentric art installations, at Jenkins Arboretum. And now I've seen them in Helen Pettengill's interesting flower arrangements. This uses three, interpersed with drying hydrangea heads, inside what I think is a grape vine wreath. It's so simple. Can you see it on your Thanksgiving table?

Maclura pomifera isn't a tree I grew up with, but I do recall gathering these seed balls from a city street awhile back and opening one up. Big disappointmen! Not an orange in there at all, more a pithy core with lots of small seeds (which squirrels supposedly like but, I ask you, what don't they?!) and some slime and other unappealing stuff. Definitely best viewed and used intact. Don't know too many humans who'd bother to deslime the seeds. I've read that they're edible, but so is okra.

This seed ball is also known as a hedge ball or hedge apple, for the tree's historic use in hedgerows in the Great Plains. And only the female tree produces them. If you've ever walked a sidewalk or field near an osage orange, you know that the females are fertility itself. Whew. Watch your step!

My interest in them is the same as Helen's - as a decorative item. For that, they're spectacular. Cheap, too.

Virginia A. Smith Inquirer Staff Writer
About this blog
Ginny Smith, a Philadelphia native, joined the Inquirer at 1985. After stints as both reporter and editor in the city and suburbs, she’s been happily writing – and learning - about gardening full time since 2006. She’s won two silver medals of achievement from the national Garden Writers Association and in 2011, Bartram’s Garden honored her with its Green Exemplar award for her stories about “the region’s deeply rooted horticultural history, cultural attractions and bountiful gardens.” She plays in her own – mostly - bountiful garden in East Falls. Reach Virginia A. at vsmith@phillynews.com .

Virginia A. Smith Inquirer Staff Writer
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