Honey Mesquite Information – How To Grow Honey Mesquite Trees
By: Teo Spengler
Honey mesquite trees (Prosopis glandulosa) are native desert trees. Like most desert trees, they are drought resistant and a picturesque, twisting ornamental for your backyard or garden. If you are thinking of growing honey mesquite, read on for more information. We’ll also give you some tips on how to care honey mesquite in the landscape.
Honey Mesquite Information
Honey mesquite trees can add summer shade and winter drama to your landscape. With twisted trunks, formidable thorns and yellow spring flowers, honey mesquites are unique and interesting.
These trees grow relatively quick to about 30 feet (9 m.) tall and 40 feet (12 m.) wide. The roots delve down even deeper – sometimes to 150 feet (46 m.) – which is what helps to make them so drought resistant.
Ornamental features on honey mesquite include pale yellow spring flowers and unusual seed pods. The pods are fairly long and tubular, resembling wax beans. They ripen in late summer. Mesquite bark is rough, scaly and reddish brown. The tree is armed with long thorns, which makes them good candidates for a defensive hedge.
How to Grow Honey Mesquite
When growing honey mesquite trees, you should know that they thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 11. These desert plants are highly tolerant of heat and drought once established.
This mesquite tree should be planted in full sun but is not picky about soil as long as it is well draining.
Honey mesquite care includes regulating the amount of irrigation the plant gets. Remember that this is a desert native. It is an opportunist in terms of water, taking whatever is available. Therefore, it is best to limit water to the plant. If you give it generous amounts of water, it will grow very fast and the wood will be weak.
You’ll also need to do foundational pruning as part of honey mesquite care. Be sure to help the tree develop a strong scaffold while it is young.
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Mesquite trees provide food, fuel, medicine, and more
Mesquite trees have long been used by native people of the southwest for food, medicine, beverages, glue, hair dye, firewood, construction material, and furniture making.
The pods are falling now is the time to gather them up, but be quick, many animals, including a bunch of insects, feast on the pods. Better yet, get them while they are still on the tree, but hard and golden.
Mesquites co-evolved with large herbivores such as mammoths, mastodons, and ground sloths, which ate the pods and dispersed them widely. When these Pleistocene animals became extinct, mesquites retreated to flood plains and washes where water and weathering scarified the seeds and aided germination. The introduction of cattle helped to expand the range of mesquites once again.
Use as food
Mesquite beans are usually harvested after they turn hard and golden. Both the pods and the seeds (which are very tough) are ground into meal. The native people sprinkled the ground meal with a little water to form small, round cakes. Later, slices of dried cake were fried like mush, used to thicken stews, or eaten raw. The meal is also used as flour to make flat bread. Mesquite meal is gluten free.
The pods of mesquite beans are very sweet and the sweetness comes from fructose which doesn’t require insulin to be metabolized. You can chew on a pod to test its sweetness. The seeds contain about 35% protein, much more than soybeans. Mesquite pods contain about 25% fiber. Some research suggests that mesquite meal, with a low glycemic index of 25, helps regulate blood sugar.
Mesquite flour is used to make a refreshing drink. If allowed to ferment, a mixture of water and mesquite flour produces a fizzy alcoholic drink.
Mesquite flowers are collected and boiled to make tea. The flowers are also roasted and pressed into balls as another food source.
The smoke of mesquite wood, used as firewood to broil meat, imparts a nice flavor.
The black tar or sap of mesquite trees can be boiled and diluted with water to make eye wash and an antiseptic for open wounds. It was also used on sore lips, chapped skin, as a sunburn lotion, and as a treatment for venereal disease.
A liquid made from boiling the inner bark of the tree was used as a laxative and as an emetic.
Tea made from mesquite leaves was used for headaches and stomach trouble. This tea also was used to cure conjunctivitis and to heal painful gums.
The Pima Indians used the black tar as a hair dye. This involved boiling the tar and applying the mixture to the hair, covering the hair with mud over night, then thoroughly washing the next morning. Resin from the tree was used as glue to mend pottery, or when boiled and diluted, as paint for pottery. The inner bark of the tree was used for basketry.
Mesquite wood is used by artisans in southern Arizona to make some beautiful furniture.
There are several species of mesquite trees. Within the desert southwest, the Velvet mesquite (Prosopis velutina), the Honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), and the Screwbean mesquite (Prosopis pubescens) are most common. The Honey and Velvet can form hybrids. These deciduous plants form shrubs and trees up to 30 feet tall. The branches contain spines. Most of the roots of mesquite trees are within the upper three feet of soil where most of the oxygen and water are. However, mesquite roots can go very deep. The deepest live root, found in a copper mine, extended 160 feet below the surface.
If you collect fallen bean pods, you may notice small holes in the pods. These holes are made by tiny bruchid beetles, which infested the fallen bean as larvae, when it was green and tender. The holes were made by the mature beetle getting out of the bean. Some mesquite bean collectors heat the beans in the oven to kill any beetles that may still be in the pods. Don’t worry though, the beetles just add more protein. Another insect found commonly with mesquite trees is the Giant Mesquite Bug which goes through five very colorful stages.
You can find descriptions of the three mesquite varieties, photos, tips on collecting, and recipes from Desert Harvesters.
Copyrighted by Jonathan DuHamel. Reprint is permitted provided that credit of authorship is provided and linked back to the source.
Native Arizona Mesquite Trees – growing tips – Velvet mesquite trees, The Tree of Life
Honey and Velvet Mesquite Trees can take the extreme heat and the cold! This tree grows fast. What is the most common tree of the Desert Southwest? It is the Mesquite! Like many members of the Legume Family, mesquite trees restore nitrogen to the soil.
There are 3 common species of NATIVE mesquite trees: Screwbean Mesquite (Prosopis pubescens ), Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), and Velvet Mesquite (Prosopis velutina).
Native Desert Tree – Honey Mesquite
These native trees are extremely drought tolerant. Honey Mesquites are more rounded with big, floppy, drooping branches. The foliage is feathery and straight – paired with sharp spines on twigs.
Arizona Native Mesquite Tree
This tree normally reaches 20–30 ft, but can reach as tall as 50 ft (15 m). The growth rate is medium. Honey mesquite coppices (it will make new growth from a root or stump if it is cut down), making permanent removal extremely hard. If a single trunk is cut down the Honey Mesquite will replace it with a multiple trunk version.
Tree with large needles, spikes in Arizona
The Honey Mesquite has pale, yellow, elongated spikes and bears straight, yellow seed bean pods. In this picture you can see how long and strong this mesquite’s spikes are. I’ve learned NOT to wear flip-flops when walking around our Honey Mesquite!
Caring for mesquite trees is a simple process after the tree has fully matured. Mesquite trees need a full day’s worth of direct sun light to grow. Make sure to plant your mesquite tree in a place where it will always have a lot of quality sun.
Good staking is crucial to the mesquite tree, especially in areas with severe summer storms, monsoon season, or high winds.
Staking your mesquite trees
The shade from these native Arizona trees create a 10-15 degree cooler temperature!
Mesquite tree for shade
The shortcoming of a Chilean or Honey Mesquite tree is wind damage. Proper staking and proper watering can help you avoid wind damage with your mesquite trees.
staking your honey mesquite tree helps prevent wind damage
Make your Mesquite trees “seek out” water and nutrients by careful arrangement of your irrigation emitters and scheduled DEEP irrigation. This will develop a more dispersed root system and reduces the risk of wind throw.
Pruning will keep your tree from becoming messy, while stimulating new growth on those branches that you pruned. The dead, diseased, broken or weak branches, drain the Mesquite tree’s energy.
Mesquite bean pods are rich in carbohydrates and have very low moisture content, making them an excellent source for harvesting, processing, and storage. A variety of animals eat the seeds such as quail, dear, javelina, coyotes, squirrels and rats.
Historic records have indicated that almost every part of the mesquite tree has a use. The Pima Indians of southern Arizona referred to the mesquite as the TREE OF LIFE.
Mesquite tree leaves and bean pods
During the inevitable droughts and deprivations of desert frontier days, the mesquite trees served up the primary food source for caravans and settlers. Mesquite beans became manna from heaven.
Medical studies of mesquite trees and other desert foods, said that despite its sweetness, mesquite flour (made by grinding whole pods) is extremely effective in controlling blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
Mesquite trees have lateral roots that extend far beyond the canopies of the plants and tap-roots that penetrate well below the surface of the soil. Some mesquites may live for more than two centuries according to U. S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service.
(Prosopis Velutina) Velvet Mesquite is the most common of the North American varieties, it ranges from southern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, and most common to the Chihuahua and Sonoran deserts of Mexico.
Native Desert Trees, Velvet Mesquite Tree
Velvet Mesquite Trees are a deciduous plant that benefits by being able to retain moisture during the winter or exceptionally dry seasons better because water does not escape through the leaves. These Mesquite trees have elongated bean pods that are sweet to taste when ripe ( reddish-yellow color). This native tree has thorns with varying lengths even on the same branch.
Velvet Mesquite Trees in Arizona
For the first year, deeply water your mesquite tree every week or so until it has properly matured. Once your velvet mesquite tree has matured, it can survive with a little supplemental water in addition to natural rain. In case of droughts, do water your mesquite trees more often.
Velvet Mesquites hold the record for deepest root (160′) these tap-roots can tap into deep, underground water supplies that aren’t available to the average plant.
The seeds of mesquite trees need to be scarified (abraded in flash flood or digestive tract) to germinate. Coyotes, and other desert animals eat the bean pods regularly.
The honey mesquite tree (Prosopis glandulosa) is a pod-bearing tree native to South Texas. It is named for its sweet, honey-producing flowers. They grow an average of 20-40 feet tall and have a broad crown of similar proportions with bright, green foliage. It has crooked, drooping branches with a smooth, brown trunk that roughens with age and is approximately 12 inches in diameter.
The tree produces flowers in small clusters from March to November that are a pale yellow color and are an excellent honey source, after which it produces bean or pea-like pods with spines occurring at large nodes on the branches. The pods are long and yellow-green with edible seeds that are flat and narrow and resemble coffee beans. Mesquite trees grow in barren sites unsuited to most crops, and need little to no watering after the 1st year as their roots may penetrate 50 to 60 feet down in search of water. These trees grow very fast and definitely prefer little water after they are established. In fact, if you plant your mesquite in a regularly watered lawn it will grow tall and lush with a very shallow root system — and may very likely blow over with the first strong windstorm. Infrequent, deep watering is best because it encourages the roots to go deep into the soil.
Mature Mesquite Tree
Long before the first Anglo settlers came to Texas, Native Americans used mesquite in its entirety, seeing it as an integral part of their culture. They made sewing needles from the thorns and used the inner bark to make baskets and fabric. The bean pods served as food and were used to make medicinal tea. The mesquite’s sap was used for black dye and sweet gum, and the wood was used to make arrows and bows for hunting.
Today, many people associate mesquite with barbecue, it is also used in furniture making and is still used as a food source in items such as jellies, honey, liquid smoke and flour made from grinding the whole pods. It also provides livestock fodder and cover and serves as food for deer and turkeys.
Mesquites ready to plant
Mesquite is a host plant to Reickers bluebutterfly and the long-tailed skipper. And, it’s sweet blossoms are also a great nectar source.
Simmons Oak Farms Wholesale Nursery offers many sizes of Honey Mesquite trees for sale to the landscape industry. Contact us at (956) 425-5859 for pricing and availability.
PLANT OF THE MONTH: PROSOPIS MESQUITE
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Prosopis, commonly known as mesquites, are extremely adaptable and tolerant to a wide range of growing conditions. They adjust to little or abundant water and will survive during times of drought by slowing down their growth. Mesquites have supplied shade, food, and medicine for people of the desert for ages. Because every part of the tree is useful, it is often referred to as the “Tree of Life.”
Mesquites have moderate to dark green leaves, rough, dark bark, and a nice sculptural growth habit. They produce yellowish cream colored catkin flowers in the spring, followed by seed pods varying in shape and size. Depending upon the variety, the canopy spreads to a mature width between 20 and 35 feet with an equal height. Mesquites must be encouraged to develop extensive roots in order to maintain stability. This is done by watering judiciously along the perimeter of the canopy and not at the base of the trunk.
All mesquites blend in well with a garden or natural landscape. Mesquites are most attractive when grown as a multi-trunk tree. Once a mesquite has grown to the desired size, reduce the irrigation to slow future growth. Most mesquites have thorns on immature growth, but thorn production will decrease as the tree matures and growth slows. However, many local nurseries have selected and sell thornless cultivars of both Argentine and Chilean mesquites.
While the Arizona Mesquite is deciduous and loses its leaves in winter, the South American Mesquites will generally not drop their leaves until the first flush of new growth in late March or early April. Mesquites cross-pollinate quite readily and as a result, much of what you find in the nursery might just be called Hybrid or South American Hybrid Mesquites.
Prosopis alba, Argentine Mesquite
Argentine mesquite is the most vigorous of the mesquite varieties. It has very large white thorns, and a rough, dark vertical trunk. These mesquites are nearly evergreen, but will continue to drop leaves throughout the cool season months. Argentine mesquites need good drainage, look best with monthly deep watering, and minimal to no fertilization.
Prosopis chilensis, Chilean Mesquite
Chilean mesquite is the species most often used in the landscape. A form is available without thorns or with very small thorns. This vigorous tree has a wide spreading crown, deep green leaves, and is deciduous. Care is similar to Argentine mesquite.
Prosopis velutina, Arizona or Velvet Mesquite
Arizona mesquite, or velvet mesquite, is native to the Arizona desert. This mesquite has soft, velvety leaves that are gray-green in color. It has small thorns at the leaf bases, and while young branches are greenish in color, mature bark is fissured and dark brown. These mesquites are useful as a specimen tree in the desert landscape, or informally in naturalized areas. They will survive on rainfall, but like monthly deep watering during the summer. This mesquite attracts a greater diversity of wildlife.
Learn more about mesquites, including the unique Screwbean mesquite, in this University of Arizona publication, Mesquite and Palo Verde Trees for the Urban Landscape.
This feature is based on a concept and text originally developed jointly by the Arizona Nursery Association and the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association (AMWUA) with partial funding from the Arizona Department of Water Resources.