Hedge balls: Is reputation for repelling spiders valid?

  • Updated: September 4, 1999 - 11:00 PM

QI bought some hedge balls, which are a natural spider repellent. How do I use them to repel spiders in the house?

AEvery year at this time, when the fruits -- called hedge balls -- of the Osage orange tree ripen, people ask whether the hedge balls repel insects, said Deborah Brown, University of Minnesota Extension Service horticulturist.

Since the days when early settlers planted the trees to mark property lines and to keep cattle in, the warty, yellow-green fruit of that hedge-like tree has had an insect-repelling reputation.

It's unclear how the fruit earned its reputation or whether it's deserved.

"There is no scientific proof that it works," said Extension Service entomologist Jeff Hahn. Brown agreed.

She said the grapefruit-sized hedge ball, sometimes called the horse apple, is not fruit as we know it. It's not good to eat, she said, and hedge balls are hard and very difficult to open. The inside is a thick, woody pulp with a little milky white juice.

According to those who say the balls work as a repellent -- mostly people in southern Iowa and points south where the tree is planted -- the ripened fruit repels spiders, roaches, water bugs and rodents. After several months, the hedge balls shrink and turn brown, but advocates say they are still effective.

Brown and Hahn said use of the hedge ball can't hurt. Except for the small amount of milky white substance, which can cause dermatitis, the fruit is not toxic. But if you don't break it open, you will never come in contact with the milk, Brown said.

Advertised as a natural bug and pest control, the hedge ball is available in the produce section of some grocery stores, including Rainbow Foods.

Don't look to harvest hedge balls in Minnesota. The tree is not hardy north of Iowa, Brown said.


Why are diseased trees in Q Minneapolis painted with various letters of the alphabet?

AThe letter notes the scout who marked the tree. Foresters who scout and mark diseased elms for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board are assigned letters and they use them when marking trees.

-- Send your questions to Fixit in care of the Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488, or call 612-673-9033, or e-mail fixit@startribune.com. Past columns are available at http://www.startribune.com/fixit. Sorry, Fixit cannot supply individual replies. Fixit appears every day except Friday.

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