When is an Apple an Orange?

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When it’s an osage orange, of course! Osage orange, Maclura pomifera, is also known as hedge apple, because the trees, whose branches are loaded with spines, were planted as hedges before the days of barbed wire. And the fruit must have reminded someone of an apple. Actually, it’s much more like a mulberry, as the two are closely related. Osage orange is dioecious — male and female flowers are borne on separate trees. If there is not a male tree nearby to fertilize it, a female tree will still bear these large yellow fruits but they will be seedless. Ecologists have suggested that osage oranges were eaten by a ground sloth that became extinct shortly after humans settled North America. The tree’s wood is used for tool handles and archery bows. Although squirrels sometimes eat the seeds, the fruit is too woody to serve as a food source for wildlife.

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