Osage oranges (Maclura pomifera) are fairly common in Virginia, and according to National Register of Big Trees,the state is home to one of the two co-champions as well as the previous champion. The trees are common enough that one might be tempted to think they have always grown here. In fact, they are originally native to a small area of the southern plains, but now this very hardy tree grows over much of the United States. The first Virginians to encounter this tree were Lewis and Clark, who sent cuttings back to Thomas Jefferson.
I have liked this tree from childhood, long before I knew what it was or cared about anything horticultural. What attracted me was the fruit, which was used effectively as painful projectiles lobbed at my brother. More adult members of my family would put the oddly attractive fruit into bowls as something pretty to look at, but would also enjoy the fruit's fragrance, which is reminiscent of oranges, hence the tree's common name. The fruit is also said to repel a number of insects, including cockroaches and crickets, and compounds in the fruit are being studied as a natural alternative to DEET in the mosquito fight.
The wood of the tree is pound for pound some of the densest of any species and has some remarkable properties. It was the preferred source of bow wood for several native tribes and later as tool handles. The close grained wood is very rot resistant and was used as long-lasting fence posts. As firewood it provides more BTU's than any other native tree. The tree itself was widely planted before the invention of barbed wire as a hedge row, and if kept pruned stays very thick and dense, while its thorns keep large animals in bounds. perfectly suited for the environment, it was also widely planted as a wind break on the prairies.
Osage Oranges will grow anywhere from 25 to 50' tall and wide and prefer full sun to light shade. They are capable of withstanding heavily acidic or alkaline soils, are drought tolerant once established, are long-lived and are hardy from zones 4 to 9. If you would like to grow one in your own garden, you will likely have to take a cutting or grow one from seed, as they are almost non-existent in the nursery trade. This tree is dioecious, meaning male and females are on seperate trees, so if you want the fruit get a female, which will still bear without a male nearby.