Prosopis glandulosa, commonly known as honey mesquite, is a species of small to medium-sized, thorny shrub or tree in the legume family (Fabaceae). It is native to the Southwestern United States and Mexico, growing as far north as southern Kansas and as far east as the eastern fifth of Texas, where average annual rainfall is in excess of 40 inches (100 cm). It can be part of the Mesquite Bosque plant association community.
It has been introduced to at least a half-dozen other countries. The IUCN considers it as one of the world’s 100 worst invasive species outside its native habitat range.
Despite its invasive nature, this tree has an array of features that make it useful: it grows extremely rapidly, has very dense shade, produces a seed pod in abundance that is eaten by animals and humans alike, and it is also readily available firewood.
Honey mesquite has rounded big and floppy, drooping branches with feathery foliage and straight, paired spines on twigs. This tree normally reaches 20–30 ft (6.1–9.1 m), but can grow as tall as 50 ft (15 m). It is considered to have a medium growth rate. Honey mesquite coppices due to latent buds underground, making permanent removal difficult. A single-trunked tree that is cut down will soon be replaced by a multi-trunked version.
It flowers from March to November, with pale, yellow, elongated spikes and bears straight, yellow seedpods. The seeds are eaten by a variety of animals, such as scaled quail. Other animals, including deer, collared peccaries, coyotes, and jackrabbits, feed on both pods and vegetation.
- Prosopis glandulosa var. glandulosa (syn. Prosopis chilensis var. glandulosa (Torr.) Standl., Prosopis juliflora var. glandulosa (Torr.) Cockerell)
- Prosopis glandulosa var. torreyana (L.D.Benson) M.C.Johnst. (syn. Prosopis juliflora var. torreyana L.D.Benson)
This species of mesquite, known as haas by the Seri people of northwestern Mexico, was very important for food and nonfood uses. The Seris had specific names for various stages of the growth of the mesquite pod. Historically, it was a very important wild food plant because it fruits even during drought years. Mesquite flour contains abundant protein and carbohydrates, and can be used in recipes as a substitute for wheat flour. Ethnobotany blogger Deborah Small describes the taste as “a rich, caramel, and nutty flavor.” The Cahuilla ate the blossoms and pods, which were ground into meal for cake. The thorns of the plant were used as tattoo needles, and the ashes for tattoos, by the Cahuilla and Serrano Indians of Southern California. The hard wood is prized for making tools and arrow points, and for the unique flavor it lends to foods cooked over it. Beans are also a seasonal food for wildlife.
Photo credits: Jim Staley, Don A.W. Carlson