Learn all about the different types of Mesquite trees to get adequate knowledge about these hardy plants especially if you're looking into planting them in your backyard.
Mesquite trees are one of the most common types of trees found in parts of Mexico and the Southwestern United States. The mesquite tree is a member of the genus of leguminous trees Prosopis. This genus of tree includes 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 Chihuahua Desert. Most of the areas where mesquite trees grow experience 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. Mizquitl is the Nahuatl name for this type of tree.
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. These trees can also be found with single or multiple branches. Mesquite trees blossom from spring through summer, and they produce fruits in the form of pods.
Depending on the climate conditions and the quality of the soil where they grow, mesquite trees can grow to a maximum height of about eight meters. They live for several years, and their mortality rate is low. These hearty trees can survive drought and low light conditions, as well.
Due to the presence of their long taproots, mesquite trees can locate enough water to ensure their survival. The taproots of mesquite trees can reach as deep as 200 feet, and are able to regenerate even after the tree has been chopped down. This makes getting rid of a mesquite tree incredibly difficult.
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, but only a few are common.
Types of Mesquite Trees
The three most common types of mesquite trees are:
- Honey mesquite
- Velvet mesquite
- Screwbean mesquite
1. Honey Mesquite Trees
The honey mesquite tree, 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. These trees 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 their ornamental twisting.
If winter drama or summer shade is desired in a backyard, honey mesquite trees should be the go-to choice of tree. Their twisted trunks and yellow-colored spring flowers will add a pop of beauty to any landscape.
Honey mesquite trees are a fast-growing species that can grow as tall as three feet and as wide as 40 feet. Their taproots can dig deep into the soil, sometimes to an incredible depth of 150 feet. These taproots and their depth are the reason why honey mesquite trees are drought resistant.
The ornamental facet of the honey mesquite tree is due to its pale, yellow-colored flowers that bloom in spring, and its unusual seed pods. What makes the pods of a honey mesquite tree unique is their long and tubular appearance. Honey mesquite tree seed pods resemble wax beans, and ripen late in the summer.
The bark of honey mesquite trees is scaly, rough, and reddish-brown in color. These trees also have long thorns that make them suitable for use as defensive hedges.
Growing Honey Mesquite Trees
Honey mesquite trees fall in hardiness zones seven through 11. These are opportunist plants that utilize whatever water and nutrients are available. They can survive in drought conditions, but if proper irrigation is provided, these trees can grow quite quickly. However, if watered them too much or too often, though they will grow rapidly, their wood will be greatly compromised.
Honey mesquite trees prefer growing in areas that receive full sun. They are not specific about soil type, so long as it is well-draining.
These trees should be pruned rigorously when young to train them to grow in a standard form, i.e., having a single trunk and a strong branch system. Honey mesquite trees can also be pruned when mature to elevate their canopy base and remove occasional water sprouts and suckers.
If you are planning on propagating honey mesquite trees through seeds, you must soak freshly harvested seeds in 95% sulfuric acid for about 30 minutes, followed by a thorough, 30-minute long rinse with tepid water. Seed germination takes six 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 quickly and produce attractive blossoms, making 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 mesquite meal or mesquite flour with a high nutritional value.
- The wood from mesquite trees can be used for firewood. It can also add a smoky flavor to meat cooked over it.
2. Velvet Mesquite Trees
Velvet mesquite trees, or Prosopis velutina, are one of the most common types of trees found in the southwestern deserts of North America. The velvet mesquite tree is native to the Chihuahua, Mojave, and Sonora Deserts.
These trees hold significant importance for humans and are essential for desert wildlife survival. Numerous birds, mammals, and insects feed on their beans and find shelter under their wide canopies. Mesquite trees are a valuable food source for wildlife.
Velvet mesquite trees are open trees with low-lying branches. The bark of these trees is almost black in color. Velvet mesquite trees are often found growing in the wild, frequently forming woods in the foothills that surround Tucson, Arizona, USA.
These trees can grow as tall as 25 feet and can spread in width to about 35 feet. Velvet mesquite trees have an asymmetrical shape, a wide-spreading crown, and multiple trunks. This makes them unsuitable to grow in areas with limited space. These trees appear in open landscapes and are perfect for areas where xeriscaping is practiced.
The pale yellow-green flowers of velvet mesquite trees bloom in late spring. These blossoms cluster 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 three inches.
The bark of velvet mesquite trees is reddish-brown in color. Velvet mesquite trees have a smooth surface when young, but as the tree ages, its bark becomes rough and changes color to gray-brown.
These trees are winter deciduous, meaning they lose leaves in cooler months. The root system of a velvet mesquite tree is deep, explaining why these trees may retain their leaves through summer droughts. In regions where the climate is generally warm, velvet mesquite tree leaves can remain till new leaves begin to grow in the spring season.
The roots of a velvet mesquite tree may penetrate as deep as 50 feet into the soil. A velvet mesquite tree’s taproot can be as big as the tree trunk itself! Velvet mesquite trees also have a lateral root system, which can spread well beyond the width of the tree’s crown.
Velvet mesquite trees can live for as long as 150 years because of their widespread and deep 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 extensively stake them. Once the trees have been established, they only need occasional watering. If their 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 is desired. If velvet mesquite trees are pruned in spring, rampant growth can result. If you wish to retain flowering buds for the next season, it is recommended that these trees are pruned after their flowers have bloomed.
Uses of Velvet Mesquite Trees
- Velvet mesquite trees are the trees of choice for commercial and residential xeriscaping in Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, USA.
- Velvet mesquite trees make for an attractive ornamental plant with their yellow-green flowers.
- The sap from these trees is frequently used to make hot tea for the treatment of sore throats, stomachaches, and toothaches. This tea is also used to flag appetites.
- The black sap of velvet mesquite trees is also used for the treatment of hair loss.
- The bark of a velvet mesquite tree is often used to make fabrics and baskets.
- Wood from velvet mesquite trees is frequently used for grilling meat and for firewood.
3. Screwbean Mesquite Trees
A screwbean mesquite tree, or Prosopis pubescens, is a small tree or shrub that falls under the pea family, Fabaceae. This tree is native to Northern Mexico and the Southwestern United States. The screwbean mesquite tree is also known by a number of other names, including the American Screwbean, Screwpod Mesquite, Tornillo, Fremont, Twisted Bean, or simply Screwbean tree.
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.
Screwbean mesquite trees serve an important purpose in their ecosystem. Many animals like rodents and birds feed on the seedpods of screwbean mesquite trees. Birds often nest in the branches of these trees, and some mammals also seek shelter in and under screwbean mesquite trees.
Screwbean mesquite trees can be identified with ease owing to their unique, screw-shaped beans that are often found clustered together. The tree is small and shrubby and has thorns.
These plants grow to an average height of about 23 feet. Their bark is light brown in color with straight and short spines. Screwbean mesquite trees have compound leaves and a number of small, yellow-colored flowers that appear in elongated spikes. The seedpods are slightly twisted and resemble screws, which is where the tree gets its unique name.
Screwbean mesquite trees differ from its cousin types for various reasons. Compared to other types of mesquite trees, the screwbean mesquite has smaller leaves and spines. The number of leaves in every cluster on a screwbean mesquite tree is fewer as well. The stems of their leaves are dull gray in color, while other types of mesquite trees have red stems. The most striking difference can be found in the shape of its fruit, which is screw-like.
Growing Screwbean Mesquite Trees
Growing screwbean mesquite trees is easily accomplished. These trees prefer to grow in areas with well-drained soil and full sun exposure. Regular pruning should be completed to maintain the shape of the tree. If screwbean mesquite trees are not pruned, their branches can sag down and even touch the ground.
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.
- The seedpods of screwbean mesquite trees are highly nutritious, with significant amounts of calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, potassium, and amino acids. They are also rich in fiber.
- Screwbean mesquite tree 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 few of these other types of mesquite trees.
4. Chilean Mesquite Trees
If you wish to add visual interest to the landscape of any property, you can plant a Chilean mesquite, or Prosopis chilensis. This is a thorn-less variety of mesquite tree that is native to South America.
Whether you are looking for a tree variety that can be planted in a rock garden, or along pathways, or on patios, Chilean mesquite trees are one of the best options available. With their wide canopy and dense, fern-like foliage, Chilean mesquite trees can also be used as privacy screens in gardens.
The Chilean mesquite tree is a classic desert tree. It has bright green-colored foliage that is fern-like in appearance and covers its twisted branches. Chilean mesquite trees make any landscape more visually interesting.
Chilean mesquite trees grow quickly and can reach a height of 30 feet. Their canopy is symmetrical and dome-shaped, which means that these trees fit well in any formal landscape. However, Chilean mesquite trees can blend equally well with native plantings.
When conditions are favorable, that is, when an area is well irrigated and soil is fertilized, these trees can grow to an incredible height of up to 50 feet. As a result of this lightning growth, the branching strength of a Chilean mesquite tree can be compromised, and the roots can take off aggressively, wreaking havoc on nearby asphalt and concrete.
Each Chilean mesquite tree leaf is divided into 40 leaflets, which measure about half an inch to one inch long. These trees have a dark-gray, sinuous trunk. Their semi-evergreen foliage is retained during warm winters, and 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 three 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 young and growing, but when watering is too frequent, the root system of the tree does not grow to as great a depth, as it does not need to spread far to search for water. As a result, the tree may topple over in strong winds or rains. After the tree has established itself, irrigation should be infrequent.
Pruning about 20 percent of the canopy of the Chilean mesquite tree promotes the development of a deep-seated root system.
5. Prosopis Juliflora
Prosopis juliflora is a type of mesquite tree that is native to South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. It is considered an invasive species in Australia, Asia, and Africa. The prosopis juliflora is a thorny evergreen tree with 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.
A prosopis juliflora can grow to a height of almost 40 feet. Its trunk measures just under four feet on average. Prosopis juliflora has deciduous light green leaves. The flowers of this tree are yellow-green in color and appear soon after the development of leaves is complete. The flowers on a prosopis juliflora are quite long and appear in clusters of two to five. The seedpods of Prosopis juliflora are quite long, as well. The seeds can stay viable for a period of up to ten 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 both drought conditions and hot climates.
6. Black Mesquite Tree
Black mesquite or Prosopis nigra is native to South America. It is a leguminous tree that is relatively small in height. This is an evergreen variety of mesquite with a round-topped crown. Although black mesquite trees usually grow to an average height of four to 10 meters, some black mesquite trees have been known to reach a height of 16 meters.
Black mesquite prefers to grow in regions that receive full sun. They also prefer locations where the soil is alkaline and clayey, with moisture at the root level. This is a fairly slow-growing variety of mesquite tree. 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 Tree
The botanical name of white mesquite is Prosopis alba. It is a South American variety of mesquite tree that is thorny and semi-deciduous. White mesquite is a medium-sized tree that can grow to a height of roughly five to 15 meters.
The trunk of the white mesquite tree is short. These trees have a globular treetop, which can reach 33 feet in diameter. The bark of the white mesquite tree is brown-gray, thin, and has tanning properties. The flowers of 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. These seeds contain a sweet-tasting floury paste that can deliver great amounts of energy to humans when consumed as flour.
White mesquite trees are planted mostly for utilitarian and ornamental purposes, typically on roadsides. The timber of these trees is dense and is often used for creating floors, doors, furniture, wine casks, paving blocks, and shoe lasts.
8. Creeping Mesquite Tree
Creeping mesquite, or Prosopis strombulifera, is also known by many other names, including creeping screwbean and Argentine screwbean.
Creeping mesquite trees are a shrub variety native to Argentina. This type of mesquite tree grows from a widespread network of roots, and can grow to a height of three meters. The leaves of this shrub have a waxy texture, and each leaf is composed of two leaflets. Each of these leaflets is divided into numerous pairs of secondary leaflets.
Creeping mesquite trees are covered with white-colored spines present near the base of their leaves. The flowers of this tree are yellow in color. The inflorescence has a spherical head that is approximately 1.5 centimeters wide. The seedpod appears bright yellow 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 they can absorb all the available water in soil, depriving other plants growing in their surroundings of the water that they require for 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, mentioned previously numerous times in this article.
For the 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. Mesquite trees don’t require any specific soil type or regular irrigation to grow. These are tough plants that can perform well in deserts.
Uses of Mesquite Trees
Mesquite trees have been used for numerous purposes for centuries. Many parts of this tree are used in one way or another, including the wood, seed pods, roots, etc. These trees are not just used for their wood and edible parts, but also have numerous medicinal uses. 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 eras, 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 frequently 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 previous eras, it was collected and stored to be used as medicine for children who fell sick.
- A black-colored sap can also be obtained from mesquite trees. This sap can be mixed with certain herbs and applied to the scalp to help treat male pattern baldness. It is a special ingredient in a number of herbal soaps in Mexico that are used to treat male-pattern baldness.
- The black sap of the mesquite tree can be boiled and diluted to make an antiseptic wash for the treatment of wounds. It is also commonly used for chapped lips, sunburns, and venereal disease treatments.
- The roots of mesquite trees are often used as firewood.
- The roots are also chewed to treat 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 frequently used to weave baskets and make fabrics.
- Mesquite flowers can be used to make tea, or can be roasted for use in different foods.
- Mesquite pods and seeds have been used in ground form by the native people of the areas where they are found. These pods and seeds 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 quite sweet and nutritious and are filled with fructose, proteins, and fiber. They can be used to regulate blood sugar levels and help manage diabetes.
One of the most useful contributions of mesquite trees to ecology is nitrogen fixing. Mesquite trees belong to the legume family, so they too 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 deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), proteins and other cellular constituents. Nitrogen is abundant in the Earth’s atmosphere, but plants cannot absorb this nitrogen directly like they can carbon dioxide and oxygen. To be able to use nitrogen, plants must 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 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 soil more fertile overall. This nitrogen fixation favors not just the growth of mesquite trees, 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 provide ornamental value. If you are looking for a type of tree for your property that not only adds beauty to your landscape but also provides other benefits, planting mesquite trees is an excellent decision.