ARCHIVE OF TREES Maclura pomifera 'Cannon Ball'

Osage Orange ‘Cannon Ball’

‘Cannonball’ produces oranges two thirds larger than the straight species. The fruit approaches the size of a bowling ball instead of a softball. Additionally, it does not possece the ferocious thorns of the straight species.  

Common name
Osage Orange
'Cannon Ball'
Scientific Name
Maclura pomifera
Star Hill Forest Arboretum
Big anachronistic fruits
Sneaky Guy
The story of Osage Orange ‘Cannon Ball’

 Maclura pomifera, or Osage Orange 'Cannonball'. We propagate it because of its gloriously useless fruit. The oranges are large, bumpy, neon green, inedible orbs. The Osage Orange tree coevolved with ancient North American megafauna such as the Giant Land Sloth. The Sloths were the only animals that could eat and benefit from the tree's tough dense fruit, and in return the animals transported the plant's seeds in their gut, ensuring the distribution of the Osage Orange genetics through the dispersal of their poop. This relationship continued until roughly 10,000 years ago when humans killed almost every mammal in North America that was larger than they were. Now, the sloths are dead and the evolutionary function of the Oranges is gone, but the Osage orange trees still have their fruit.

Osage orange trees grow almost anywhere with a zone hardiness range of 4 to 9. That's Florida to northern Maine. These trees are so tough that farmers during the dust bowl planted them as windbreaks where nothing else would grow to keep the soil from blowing away. They grow fast, faster than a child, reaching the 10 foot mark at roughly 7 years of age. The wood is rot-resistant, heavy, hard, springy and burns hot. These characteristics make it coveted for fence posts that never rot, bowls with beautiful grain patterns and archery bows. The tree itself takes to hedging as if it liked to be clipped and some speculate that the tree contains compounds that could make an insect repellent.

We grow this tree for the very reasons it is not useful, for the reasons that make it disruptive. It's nice to have an apple tree that provides you with an apple or two, or an obedient boxwood privacy hedge, or a pot of herbs to flavor your food, but what the Osage Orange represents and where its value comes from is something more than the utility. The Osage Orange leads a subversive existence. Every fall a considerable amount of oranges drop to the ground and roll downhill and wind up where they're not supposed to be, cluttering up sidewalks and lawns and getting smushed by cars in parking lots. From a maintenance perspective, this makes it a terrible street tree, but as an agent of play, the Osage Orange is first-rate. The Oranges lend themselves well to being tossed, kicked, rolled, baked into children's backyard mud soups, or imagined as “monkey brains”. The Osage is valuable precisely because it is useless. It is a reminder that there once was a time when humans didn't exist. A reminder of the loss inherent in a world missing giant beasts that once were. It is a representative of ideas that don't fit but keep trying to be realized no matter how bleak the outlook. This tree's worth, as with any life's worth, is not based on its ability to be instrumentalized.