Mesquites are one of the most common trees that are found in parts of Mexico and Southwestern United States. Mesquite is a member of the genus of leguminous trees, Prosopis, that has about 40 species under its umbrella, including peanuts, clover, alfalfa, and beans.
Mesquite trees are quite hardy and are well adapted to dry environments. They are mostly found growing in the northern areas of Mexico, including the Chihuahuan Desert. Most of the areas where mesquite trees grow have a fairly low annual rainfall.
The English name Mesquite has been borrowed from Mezquita, a Spanish word, which itself is borrowed from a Nahuatl term, mizquitl.
Mesquites can grow as a small shrub in shallow soil or may grow as tall as 50 feet where the soil is deep and adequately moist. They can also be found with single or multiple branches. These trees blossom from spring till summer, and they produce fruits in the form of pods.
Depending upon the climatic conditions and the quality of the soil, mesquite trees can grow to a maximum height of about 8 meters. They live for several years, and their mortality rate is low. They can survive drought and low light conditions as well.
Due to the presence of long taproots, these trees can locate water that is enough for their survival. The taproots of mesquite trees can reach as deep as 200 feet and have the ability to regenerate even after the tree has been chopped off. This makes it extremely hard to get rid of this tree.
If you are planning to plant mesquite trees, you should first have adequate knowledge about the different types of mesquite trees. There are several types of mesquite trees that have been identified. However, only a few ones are common.
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Types of Mesquite Trees
The three most common types of mesquite trees are:
- Honey mesquite
- Velvet mesquite
- Screwbean mesquite
Honey mesquite or Prosopis glandulosa is a medium-sized shrub with thorns or a leguminous tree that is native to the deserts of Northern Mexico and the Southwestern United States. They can grow in hot and dry conditions. Being native to deserts, honey mesquite trees are drought resistant. What makes them popular among locals is their picturesque appearance due to ornamental twisting.
If you are looking for some winter drama or summer shade in your backyard, honey mesquite trees should be your go-to choice of tree. Their twisted trunks and yellow-colored spring flowers will add the pop of beauty that you want for your landscape.
Honey mesquite trees are fast-growing species that can grow as tall as 3 feet and as wide as 40 feet. Their taproots can dig deep into the soil, sometimes to an incredible depth of 150 feet. This is the reason why honey mesquite trees are drought resistant.
The ornamental value of the honey mesquite tree is due to its pale, yellow-colored flowers that bloom in spring and the unusual seed pods. What makes their pods unique is their long and tubular appearance that resembles wax beans. The seed pods ripen late in the summers.
The bark of honey mesquite trees is scaly, rough, and reddish-brown in color. These trees also have long thorns that make them suitable to be used as defensive hedges.
Growing Honey Mesquite Trees
Honey mesquite trees fall in the hardiness zones 7 through 11. They are opportunist plants that utilize whatever is available. They can survive in drought conditions, but if proper irrigation is provided, these trees can grow quite fast. However, if you water them too much, they will grow rapidly, but their wood will be greatly compromised.
Honey mesquite trees prefer growing in areas that receive full sun. They are not specific about the soil type as long as it is well-draining.
These trees should be pruned rigorously when they are young to train them to grow in a standard form, i.e., having a single trunk and a strong branch system. They can also be pruned when mature to elevate the canopy base and to remove occasional water sprouts and suckers.
If you are planning on propagating honey mesquite trees through seeds, you need to soak freshly harvested seeds in 95% sulfuric acid for about 30 minutes followed by a thorough, 30-minute long rinsing with tepid water. Seed germination takes 6 to 36 hours when the soil temperature is anywhere from 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Uses of Honey Mesquite Trees
Honey mesquite Trees have several uses.
- Honey mesquite trees grow fast and produce attractive blossoms. These make honey mesquite trees suitable for ornamental uses.
- Honey mesquite trees are excellent bee trees and are ideal for nectar insects.
- The seedpods of honey mesquite trees are dried and ground to make meals or mesquite flour that has a high nutritional value.
- The wood from mesquite trees is used for firewood and to add a smoky flavor to the meat.
Velvet mesquite or Prosopis velutina is one of the most common types of trees that are found in the southwestern deserts of North America. Velvet mesquite is native to the Chihuahuan, Mojave, and Sonoran Deserts.
These trees hold significant importance for humans and are essential for desert wildlife survival. Numerous birds, mammals, and insects feed on its beans and find shelter under its wide canopy. Mesquite trees are a valuable food source for wildlife.
Velvet mesquite trees are open trees that have low-lying branches. The bark of these trees is almost black in color. They are found growing in the wild, often forming woods in the foothills in areas that surround Tucson.
They can grow as tall as 25 feet and can spread to about 35 feet. The trees have an asymmetrical shape, a wide-spreading crown, and multiple trunks that make them unsuitable to be grown in areas that have limited space. These trees appear in open landscapes and are perfect for areas where xeriscaping is practiced.
The pale yellow-green flowers bloom in late spring. They are clustered together to form pendulous spikes. The seedpods are long and ripen in summer.
Velvet mesquite trees have bi-pinnate leaves that are gray-green in color. These leaves are deciduous when the weather turns cold. Multiple stems of these trees have stout thorns that can grow to a length of 3 inches.
The bark of velvet mesquite trees is reddish-brown in color. It has a smooth surface when the trees are young, but as the tree ages, the bark changes its color to gray-brown and becomes rough.
These trees are winter deciduous. They lose leaves in the cooler months. The root system is deep-rooted, and that is why these trees may retain their leaves through summer droughts. In the regions where the climate is generally warm, the leaves can stay till new leaves begin to grow in the spring season.
The roots may penetrate as deep as 50 feet in the soil, and the taproot can be as big as the tree trunk itself! They also have a lateral root system that can spread well beyond the width of the crown.
Velvet mesquite trees can live for as long as 150 years because of their widespread and deep-rooted root system and their adaptability in drought conditions.
Growing Velvet Mesquite Trees
Velvet mesquite trees can grow in almost any type of soil, whether it is well-drained, rocky, fertile, or native. If you want the Velvet Mesquite trees in your garden to grow with an upright habit, you may need to provide extensive staking. Once the trees have been established, you need to water them only occasionally. If the soil is too moist and soggy, the roots may rot, and the wood may decay.
During late summer, Velvet Mesquite trees should be pruned in whatever shape you desire. If you prune velvet mesquite trees in spring, it can cause rampant growth. If you wish to retain flowering buds for the next season, it is recommended that you prune these trees after the flowers have bloomed.
Uses of Velvet Mesquite Trees
- Velvet mesquite trees are the trees of choice for commercial and residential xeriscaping in Phoenix and Tuscan.
- Velvet mesquite makes for an attractive ornamental plant with its yellow-green colored flowers.
- The sap from these trees is used to make hot tea for the treatment of sore throats, stomachaches, toothaches, and for flagging appetites.
- The black sap of velvet mesquite trees is used for the treatment of hair loss.
- The bark is used to make fabrics and baskets.
- Wood from velvet mesquite trees is used for grilling meat and for firewood.
3. Screwbean Mesquite Trees
Screwbean mesquite or Prosopis pubescens is a small tree or shrub that falls under the pea family, Fabaceae. It is native to Northern Mexico and the Southwestern United States. It is also known by a number of other names such as American Screwbean, Screwpod Mesquite, Tornillo, Fremont, Twisted Bean, or simply Screwbean.
Screwbean mesquite trees are most commonly found in deserts and along streams and valleys. The soil in the areas where screwbean mesquite trees are found is usually damp or saline.
They serve an important purpose in the ecosystem. Many animals like rodents and birds feed on the seedpods, birds make their nests in the branches of these trees, and some mammals also seek shelter in and under this type of tree.
Screwbean mesquite can be identified with ease owing to its unique, screw-shaped beans that are often found clustered. The tree is small and shrubby and has thorns.
These plants grow to an average height of about 23 feet. The bark is light brown in color with straight and short spines. They have compound leaves and a number of small, yellow-colored flowers that appear in elongated spikes. The seedpods are slightly twisted and resemble screws, hence the name of the tree – Screwbean.
Screwbean mesquite is different from the rest of its cousin types for various reasons. As compared to other types of mesquite trees, screwbean mesquite has smaller leaves and spines. The number of leaves in every cluster is fewer as well. The stems are dull gray in color while other types of mesquite trees have red-colored stems. The most striking difference is the difference in the shape of its fruit, which is screw-like.
Growing Screwbean Mesquite Trees
Growing screwbean trees is quite easy. These trees prefer to grow in areas that have well-drained soil and full sun exposure. Regular pruning should be done to maintain the shape of the tree. If they are not pruned, the branches can sag down and even touch the ground sometimes.
Uses of Screwbean Mesquite Trees
- The seedpods of screwbean mesquite trees can be eaten raw or used as a part of meals, syrups, or cakes.
- Seedpods of screwbean mesquite trees are highly nutritious with significant amounts of calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, potassium, and amino acids. They are rich in fiber.
- Seedpods can be used to make smoothies and other drinks.
- The fruits of screwbean mesquite trees can be used as a substitute for coffee.
- The wood of screwbean mesquite trees is used in building, making weapons and tools, and as firewood.
- The roots are used to make wound healing preparations.
Other types of mesquite trees are not as common as honey mesquite, velvet mesquite, and screwbean mesquite. Let’s take a look at a couple of them.
If you wish to add visual interest to the landscape of any property, you should plant Chilean mesquite or Prosopis chilensis. It is a thorn-less variety of mesquite that is native to South America.
Whether you are looking for a tree variety that can be planted in a rock garden, or pathways and patios, Chilean mesquite trees are one of the best options that you have. With their wide canopy and dense, fern-like foliage, they can also be used as privacy screens in your gardens.
Chilean mesquite is a classic desert tree. It has bright green-colored foliage that is fern-like in appearance and covers twisted branches. This makes any landscape an interesting sight to look at.
Chilean mesquite trees grow fast and reach a height of 30 feet. The canopy is symmetrical and dome-shaped, which makes these trees fit well in any formal landscape. That does not imply that these trees look out of the place in an informal setting. They can blend equally well with native plantings.
When the conditions are favorable, that is, when the area is well irrigated, and the soil is fertilized, these trees can grow to an incredible height of up to 50 feet. As a result of quick growth, the branching strength gets compromised, and the roots take off aggressively, wreaking havoc on asphalt and concrete.
Each leaf is divided into 40 leaflets, which are about ½ to 1 inch long. The trees have a dark-gray, sinuous trunk. The semi-evergreen foliage is retained during warm winters and is shed in spring upon the breaking of the buds. Later in the spring season, yellow-green colored catkins appear. In summers, twisted, long seedpods are produced. Although Chilean mesquite trees are a thorn-less variety, some trees may produce thorns as long as 3 inches.
Growing Chilean Mesquite Trees
Chilean mesquite trees prefer growing in areas that receive full sun exposure. They might need regular watering when they are growing, but when the watering is too frequent, the root system of the tree does not grow to great depth as it does not need to spread too far to search for water. As a result, the tree may topple over when strong winds or rains occur. After the tree has established itself, the irrigation should be infrequent.
Pruning about 20% of the canopy of the Chilean mesquite tree promotes the development of a deep-seated root system.
Prosopis juliflora is a type of mesquite that is native to South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. It is considered an invasive weed in Australia, Asia, and Africa. It is a thorny, evergreen tree that has a large, open canopy and a flat-topped crown. It is known by different names in different countries, such as bayahonda Blanca in Spanish, bayawonn in Creole, and bayarone Francais in French.
It can grow to a height of about 39 feet. The trunk has an average diameter of about 3.9 feet. Prosopis juliflora has deciduous leaves that are light green in color. The flowers are yellow-green in color and appear soon after the development of leaves is complete. The flowers are quite long and appear in clusters of 2 to 5. The seedpods of Prosopis juliflora are quite long as well. The seeds can stay viable for a period of 10 years.
This type of mesquite tree is among the plants with the deepest roots. The roots of Prosopis juliflora can grow to a depth of 175 feet. As a result, these trees are extremely tolerant of drought conditions and hot climates.
6. Black Mesquite
Black mesquite or Prosopis nigra is native to South America. It is a leguminous tree that is relatively small in height. It is an evergreen variety of mesquite that has a round-topped crown. Although it usually grows to an average height of 4 to 10 meters, some Black mesquite trees have been found to have grown to a height of 16 meters.
Black mesquite prefers to grow in regions that receive full sun and where the soil is alkaline and clayey and has moisture at the root level. It is a fairly slow-growing variety of mesquite. Black mesquite is an ideal variety if the purpose of planting this tree is the provision of shade during warm, sunny days.
7. White Mesquite
The botanical name of white mesquite is Prosopis alba. It is a South American variety of mesquite that is thorny and semi-deciduous. White mesquite is a medium-sized tree that can grow to a height of about 5 to 15 meters.
The trunk of the white mesquite tree is short. These trees have a globular treetop that can reach 33 feet in diameter. The bark is brown-gray, thin, and has tanning properties. The flowers of the white mesquite trees are green-white or yellowish in color and quite small in size.
The modified seedpods, which are the fruits of white mesquite trees, contain brown-colored seeds. They consist of a sweet-tasting floury paste which delivers great amounts of energy to humans when consumed as flour.
White mesquite trees are planted majorly for utilitarian and ornamental purposes. It is planted on roadsides. The timber of these trees is dense and is used for making floors, doors, furniture, wine casks, paving blocks, and shoe lasts.
8. Creeping Mesquite
Creeping mesquite or Prosopis strombulifera is also known by many other names such as creeping screwbean and Argentine screwbean.
Creeping mesquite is a shrub variety that is native to Argentina. It grows from a widespread network of roots and can grow to a height of 3 meters. The leaves of this shrub have a waxy texture. Each leaf is made up of two leaflets, each of which is divided into numerous pairs of secondary leaflets.
Creeping mesquite is covered with white-colored spines that are present near the base of the leaves. The flowers are yellow in color. The inflorescence has a spherical head that is approximately 1.5cm wide. The seedpod is bright yellow in color and is coiled tightly into a cylindrical shaped stick.
Numerous other types of mesquite trees have been identified. However, they are not very common. Therefore, the data available on them is quite limited. Some of these have been listed below:
- Prosopis cineraria
- Prosopis humilis
- Prosopis pallida
- Prosopis reptans
Mesquite Trees or Devil Trees?
Mesquite trees are sometimes called devil trees because these trees absorb all the water that is available in the soil and deprives other plants growing in its surroundings of the water that they require for their survival. As a result, other plants wither and die, and mesquite trees thrive and grow. The reason for this is the deep root system that these trees possess that has been mentioned numerous times in this article.
For the very same reason, mesquite trees are considered to be incredibly tough trees. They can tolerate hot climates and drought conditions. Their taproots can penetrate several meters into the soil to find the water required for their survival. They don’t need any specific soil type or regular irrigation for growth. They are tough plants that can perform well in deserts.
Uses of Mesquite Trees
Mesquite trees have been used for numerous purposes for several hundred years. Many parts of this tree are used in one way or the other, including the wood, seed pods, roots, etc. These trees are not just used for their wood and edible parts, but they also have numerous medicinal uses as well. Specific uses of each species of mesquite have been mentioned above. A list of general uses has been given below:
- The timber from mesquite trees is one of the most expensive varieties of wood in the United States. In earlier times, the wood from mesquite trees was used to make ships. Today, mesquite wood is used to make rustic cabinets and furniture.
- The smaller pieces of wood and wood scraps are used for cooking.
- A clear sap oozes out from mesquite trees. This sap is said to have a remarkable healing effect on stomach aches. The sap is sweet and edible, and in older times, it was collected and stored to be used as medicine for children who fell sick.
- A black-colored sap is also obtained from mesquite trees. It is mixed with certain herbs and is applied to the scalp to treat male pattern baldness. It is a special ingredient in a number of herbal soaps in Mexico that are used to treat baldness in males.
- The black sap is boiled and diluted to make an antiseptic wash for the treatment of wounds. It was also used for chapped lips, sunburn, and venereal disease treatment.
- The roots of mesquite trees are used as firewood.
- The roots are also chewed for the treatment of toothaches.
- Mesquite leaves are used to make tea for the treatment of stomach aches or to stimulate a person’s appetite.
- The bark of mesquite trees is used to weave baskets and make fabrics.
- Mesquite flowers can be used to make tea or can be roasted to be used in different foods.
- The mesquite pods and the seeds have been used in ground form by the native people. They were made into cakes and dried. Later, these cakes were sliced and fried, or eaten raw. They were also used in many stew recipes.
- Mesquite meal can also be used in the making of flatbread or can be fermented to make alcoholic beverages.
- Mesquite beans are very sweet and nutritious and are filled with fructose, proteins, and fiber. They can be used to regulate the level of blood sugar and manage diabetes.
One of the most useful contributions of mesquite trees to ecology is nitrogen-fixing. Mesquite trees belong to the legume family and actively participate in fixing nitrogen. It is believed that mesquites have nitrogen-fixing nodules in their roots.
Plants require nitrogen-rich soil for adequate growth. Nitrogen is a building component of nucleic acid (DNA), proteins (the building blocks of life), and other cellular constituents. Nitrogen is abundant in the atmosphere, but plants cannot absorb this nitrogen directly like they absorb carbon dioxide and oxygen. To be able to use this nitrogen, plants have to fix it to form ammonium or nitrates which can then be taken up by the plant from the soil.
In short, nitrogen fixation is required to add nitrogen to the soil. Not all plants can fix nitrogen. Mesquite trees are among the few types of plants that are capable of fixing nitrogen. They also make the soil more fertile. This favors not just their own growth, but also the growth of the plants in their surroundings.
Mesquite trees are incredibly useful trees. They are a rough and resistant species that can live for several hundred years. With beautiful flowers, they also hold ornamental value. If you are looking for a type of tree for your property that not only adds value to your landscape but also has other benefits, planting mesquite trees is probably the best decision that you can make.