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What is Maclura?

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  • Written By: N. Freim
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 18 September 2016
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The Maclura genus consists of flowering shrubs and trees. The plants grow naturally in warmer climates in such areas as Texas, Arkansas, Honduras, and Brazil. Maclura plants feature alternate leaves, small flowers, and inedible fruit. Usually not grown for looks, this spiny tree functions most often as a windbreak or hedge. One species of the genus, Maclura pomifera, also known as Osage-orange, is used to carve bows, and its fruit is often used to repel insects.

Maclura is a genus of flowering trees in the mulberry family, Moraceae. The group includes about ten different species, including Maclura pomifera, or 'Osage-orange.' The trees are native to warmer parts of the world, growing in the southern United States, northern parts of South America, China, and Africa.

The trees are medium-sized, growing up to 60 feet (about 18.3 meters) in height. Small 3- to 5-inch (about 7.6- to 12.7-centimeter) leaves alternate on the branches; the leaves are dark green on top and paler on the bottom, with a pointed tip. The small, pale green male and female flowers grow on separate trees.

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Occasionally called a spiny tree, the Maclura is not generally considered very attractive. The tree is most used as a windbreak or to create hedges, particularly in prairie states with few natural hills. The plant grows quickly and easily in most soils, doing most poorly in soils with heavy concentrations of clay. While they do need careful pruning, Maclura are relatively disease free and require little other maintenance.

The species indigenous to the United States, the Maclura pomifera, is also called the Osage-orange because of its fruit. Although the scent is similar to that of an orange, the flesh of the Maclura fruit is basically inedible by human standards. The 4- to 5-inch (about 10- to 13-centimeter) round fruits are green and knobby. When punctured, the fruit leaks a bitter, milky juice that turns black when exposed to air. Some scientists are experimenting with using extracts of the fruit as mosquito repellent.

Maclura pomifera was also widely used for constructing bows. Various Native American tribes used the strong, durable wood of the plant for their most prized bows. This resulted in the tree’s alternate name of “bois d’arc” or “bow wood.” These bows were recognizable by the distinctive orange hue of the wood.

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