Friday, June 8, 2012

Hedge Apple Cure for What Ails You

“Hedge apples, direct to you!  Placement of hedge apples around the foundation or inside the basement is claimed to provide relief from cockroaches, spiders, box elder bugs, crickets, and other pests” reads a headline of an Internet site I recently found. 

Why would anyone want hedge apples, I wondered.  Aren’t they those ugly green fruits that look a lot like a green brain?  As a matter of fact, I discovered green brain is another term for hedge apples along with Osage orange, hedge balls, monkey balls, and horse apples. In no time, I learned more than I ever thought I needed to know about these weirdly formed fruits, and now I want to share it with you.

What set me off on this quest to learn more about hedge apples was another of those odd occurrences that sometimes happen at our place.  I found a hedge apple source near my daughter’s house.  Somewhere I read that hedge apples repel insects and other pests, so I decided to check it out.  Holding sources, even unremembered sources, accountable provides an important life mission for aging English teachers.

I brought three of spicy scented, oddly textured fruits home and set them on the patio to dry out.  (I had not read the Internet site yet where I would learn they work best in their fresh and naturally moist condition.)  The next morning as I hopped in the car to head to work, I noticed the disappearance of one hedge apple.  In a hurry as usual, I chocked it up to the big yellow dog, who does occasionally entertain himself with balls and other round shapes accidentally left in the yard.
That afternoon, I returned from school to discover the disappearance of all my hedge apples.  A mystery lover from way back, I was on a quest.  Where were my hedge balls?  Even though they do not stink, they do not smell like anything my dog normally finds interesting.  In fact, he usually does not like spicy, fruity smells. I know.  I have tried to get him to eat leftover fried apples.

My next thought was a wifely natural.  Maybe my husband tossed them out, not recognizing my new experiment in natural pest control.  Some of my experiments have turned out poorly, so he might not identify a good experiment when he saw it. 

Before he arrived home from work so I could accuse him of tossing my experiment, I find the remains of the green blobs.  Nothing about their new state resembled a ball, an orange, or a brain.  Something had removed them from the porch step to an area underneath a nearby cedar.  Once that something had the hedge ball where it wanted it, it exploded it into a thousand microscopic pieces.  Putting that mess back together would confound the most determined crime scene investigator.  

            That night I explained the situation to my family and showed them the mess.  My husband automatically blamed it on squirrels. I thought maybe he was taking the easy way out since it is easy to blame messes on squirrels at our house, but he said he sees exploded hedge apples like that all the time under hedgerows in the country.  Still wondering about it, I spent some time in cyber space, looking up hedge apples.  What I found was more fascinating than the actual fruit itself.

            The Osage orange, native to eastern Texas, southeast Oklahoma, and southwestern Arkansas, happens to be the tree that sprouts hedge apples.  Since humans cannot eat the fruit and few animals (except squirrels, I guess) depend on it, I wondered why we find so many Osage orange trees in Kansas, a much drier and cooler climate than its native region.

 A little more reading answered that question.  Strong, powerful thorns arm the branches of this tree, and prior to the discovery of barb wire, ranchers and farmers would plant these trees around a quarter or a section of land. Livestock could not penetrate this “living fence.”   That explains all those hedgerows in eastern Kansas.  The trees will grow all the way into Iowa, so  many old farmsteads have these unusual “fences.”

Unlike some other introduced species that prove to do more harm than good, one might consider the tree an actual boon.  The tree itself tolerates poor soil, heat, and strong wind (sounds like a Kansas tree to me).  In addition, it transplants well and resists disease. 

Not only does it share these desirable traits, it also produces a very durable and beautiful wood.  I once saw a lovely garden bench made of Osage orange.  The orange, yellow, and brown tones of the wood combined to set that bench apart from the ordinary.  It was as much art as utilitarian.

 Due to the wood’s strength it can be used for fence posts, insulator pins, furniture, and archery bows.  Some go so far as to claim this the best wood for archery bows.  In fact, the French name for the tree, the bois d’arc, means bow wood.  If it grows so well under difficult conditions, maybe we ought to look into planting a bit more of it in western Kansas.  We could become the bow capital of the world.

Back to the fruits of this tree, my experiment proceeds.  Based upon my sources, I expect to find relief soon from the annual box elder bug invasion.  Spiders who hoped to share the house this winter will have to look elsewhere for lodging, and the crickets will have to find somewhere else to practice their obnoxious tunes.  After all, one Internet site offers this natural pest repellent at a $1.50 a hedge apple plus shipping.  The ad says to buy plenty for now and to freeze some for later use. 

If I can learn to love the odd smell of these ugly fruits, I may be onto the solution for the annual fall in migration of unwanted insects.  When you see a box elder bug swarm leaving my house, you will know it works. 


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