2015

 
 

Mesquite, or Prosopis, is a group of deciduous trees that may get as tall as 30 feet though are often seen as large shrubs. They have compound leaves 2 to 3 inches long and twigs with a zigzag pattern. One of the most notable characteristics of this genus is its taproot. A Mesquite taproot has actually been recorded at 190 feet. A taproot of that length allows a tree to survive in some very hostile environments enabling it to feed deep or close to the surface as conditions dictate. The most common species are Velvet mesquite or Prosopis velutina, Screwbean mesquite or Prosopis pubescens and Honey mesquite or Prosopis glandulosa. Of these, the most well-known, perhaps notorious, is the Honey mesquite. Though it is a major woody plant of the American southwest, Honey mesquite has probably received more negative attention than positive. It has legendary thorns capable of puncturing tires though it has also been favored for its firewood, the demand of which is constantly growing. As a group, mesquites were one of the most important resources of native people in southwestern North America providing food, fuel, shelter, weapons, tools.
The flower racemes of Honey mesquite have a bottlebrush look and are quite fragrant. They are also very attractive to bees who use them to make an excellent honey. And being a legume, Honey mesquite can fix nitrogen, thereby enriching the soil. And the wood is exceptionally hard which is why it was used for furniture and implements. And perhaps most notably, the wood burns slowly and is highly aromatic, which is why it is so perfect for smoking meats and barbecuing. And the fruit, a 12 inch pea pod, is consumed by birds and mammals, making it a blessing to wildlife. 
In warm areas of low rainfall and poor soil, where few other trees will grow,  a Mesquite will succeed and improve the soil while doing so. It can also take a surprising amount of cold as well as heat. In Australia this tree has succeeded so well that it has, in fact, been considered an invasive species. Still, Honey mesquite is a lovely small shade tree with wonderful fragrance that deserves to be considered as more than a last resort tree for hostile environments and its size and toughness recommends it for broader urban use.

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Honey mesquite

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