What is a mesquite?

Williams – Mesquite trees have been in West Texas for centuries

Sometimes when the staff of the Sibley Nature Center is on the trail with a group of children we stop and say, “How many of you kids are really West Texans? … What is this bush?”

Usually the answer is, “It is a thorn bush.” Because that is the most common answer, we are reassured that we provide something to the citizens of Midland. Every child should know the name of the most common tree of the region in which he or she resides. How can a child be a West Texan and not know the name?

There are a thousand stories about mesquite. Some people hate it and poison it with chemicals. Some people love the wood for its rich dark hardness and use it for gun butts, clocks, tables, or rolling pins. Others love it for the flavor it adds to grilled foods.

Some folktales about mesquite are repeated as fact. “Mesquite came here with cattle,” is a belief that masquerades as knowledge. “The Spanish brought it from South America (or at least from Mexico).”

But, At every Indian campsite there is proof that mesquite has been here for centuries. Eunice Barkes, a Midland archaeologist, found mesquite charcoal dating from the 1100s at a burnt rock site near what is now Trinity School. In the Florrisant Fossil Beds in Colorado, scientists have dated fossilized mesquite leaves to 75 million years ago.

Fires started by Native Americans or lightning burned many sites on the Llano Estacado at least once a decade. Five million buffalo roamed from the Canadian River to the Concho River and the huge animals stomped any scrawny mesquite seedlings that managed to escape the fires every time a herd passed by. During the time of the buffalo prairie, mesquite was only able to grow to substantial size in draws and playas with shallow water tables where fires were slowed by damp soils and vegetation.

In the first drought after cattlemen began stocking the land, the cattle overgrazed the buffalo prairie. The cattle ate any mesquite bean that could be found, and in the resulting cow patties the mesquite seeds found ideal conditions for germination. Surrounded by moist fertilizer and close to bare ground, the seedlings germinated miles from the parent plant.

Prairie dogs controlled mesquite seedlings on the buffalo prairie. But early-day cattlemen hated prairie dogs (because running horses and cattle tripped in the holes and broke their legs) and killed millions. Within 50 years, most of the buffalo prairie became covered with mesquite bushes.

The natural controls of mesquite – fire and grazing by prairie dogs – had been eliminated.

The Sibley Nature Center has a 2- foot diameter mesquite trunk cut to display the rings of the wood (which are so close together that the separate rings are mostly indistinguishable). The specimen came from a hill overlooking Peck’s Lake, a large salt playa. The only naturally occurring surface water in Midland County is a spring that rises a quarter of a mile from where the old mesquite once grew.

Perhaps one day this cross section can be sent to a dendrological laboratory to determine the date of its germination. Sibley’s staff knows of another site with a mesquite of similar size that might provide a comparison in formulating a hypothesis concerning the age of our specimen.

The other mesquite grows on the roadbed of the old Fasken Railway along the highway to Gardendale. Since the railroad was abandoned in the 1920s, perhaps the Sibley specimen is also around 80 years old as well.

The soil types of the two locations, however, are very, very different. The Peck’s Lake specimen was on a gravelly caliche hillside – a much more xeric location – and therefore, probably grew much more slowly.

If you are thinking, “what insignificant trivia,” or, “the folks out at Sibley know their stuff,” well, we do know a little, but we are always learning more. We love the Llano Estacado; it is our home.

If you believe that knowledge of the local ecology is trivial, it impossible that no natural place will feel like home to you. When we live in modern, urban environments, we can come to believe the myth that we are not affected by local ecological conditions. We can delude ourselves into believing Midland is a self-contained space colony with its food, energy, and water shipped in from afar, unattached and unrelated to the local environment.

Believing in this myth makes it easy to hate one’s homeland. Many people who live in West Texas deride the Llano Estacado as flat, brown, dreary, and ugly. Mesquite becomes a symbol of the hate. “Do not go in a vacant lot and play near those nasty thorn bushes,” mamas tell their children. “Stay inside, out of the heat, away from the snakes and sticker burs.”

Along the North Concho River, the Soil Conservation Service (now the Natural Resources Conservation Service) used federal money to help ranchers eradicate mesquite in long strips. The remaining mesquite was intended to provide wildlife cover, and to prevent wind erosion. Dried-up springs began running again after the removal of 50 percent of the mesquite.

Yet other ranchers like mesquite. “Look under the little trees – the grass stays greener longer, and better quality species grow there. The leaves and beans of the plant put nitrogen into the soil – and since it is a legume, it probably has nitrogen-fixing nodules on the roots. It would be stupid to kill a natural fertilizer factory,” they say.

One researcher found that soil moisture increased near the tap and lateral roots of mesquite. This moisture was present even in a very dry season. This fact suggests a very interesting possibility – can mesquite absorb moisture from the atmosphere, and transport it to the root zone?

There is an old saying in mesquite country: “Mesquite does not leaf out in the spring until after the last frost.”

Like most folk sayings, it contains quite a bit of truth. Most years the saying holds true. Every once in a while, though, a late cold front blasts in and 4 inches of snow suddenly adorn fully leafed mesquites.

– – –

Burr Williams is education director of the Sibley Nature Center.

It’s almost barbeque season, which means that for many of us it’s just about time to break out the mesquite.

But mesquite isn’t all that popular when it isn’t providing a nice, smoky flavor to our burgers and chicken. Many people actually hate it. In fact, mesquite trees are some of the worst invasive species on the planet.

Mesquite is originally from the Americas, but humans have spread the trees (several species in the Prosopis genus) worldwide over the past half century, often in order to provide firewood or protection against erosion. But wherever mesquite goes, local species suffer. Mesquite’s prodigious seeds, deep roots, thick branches and ability to grow in dry environments make it a formidable opponent and a dangerous exploiter of natural resources.

Mesquite’s stranglehold is so bad that some people in Africa refer to it as the “devil’s tree.”

Now the devil has come to India.

Mesquite has actually been in India for decades but its environmental impact is just now becoming clear. According to a paper published last week in National Academy Science Letters, mesquite plants are rapidly invading the only habitat for the endangered Indian wild ass (Equus hemionus khur), threatening to push the horselike animals out in the process.

Ironically, mesquite would not have such a choke hold on the nearly 5,000-square-kilometer Wild Ass Wildlife Sanctuary if it weren’t for the very animals for which it is named. Wild asses, it turns out, find mesquite to be quite edible, if not as tasty or nutritious as native grasses. The asses eat seed pods and then pass the seeds through their digestive systems. This process–combined with damp, nutrient-rich dung–creates the perfect conditions for mesquite seeds to germinate. Without the wild asses’ help the seeds cannot grow in the sanctuary’s saline desert, which has little water and inhospitable soil.

During the wetter 1990s mesquite’s territory expanded as many as 25 square kilometers each year. Today, with dryer weather, it doesn’t spread as quickly. The paper estimates that mesquite is currently invading 1.95 square kilometers of the sanctuary every year.

That might not seem like a lot, but remember that this is a desert. There’s already little room for the vegetation on which both the asses and numerous other species depend. The authors of the new paper wrote that over the past 10 years mesquite has taken over large areas of grassland that formerly fed the wild asses. In the process mesquite’s thick branches have completely blocked access to watering holes birds and mammals use as well as sunlight that ground plants need to grow.

Over the course of the mesquite invasion Indian wild ass populations have actually increased. A census released this past February found that the number of wild asses rose from 4,038 in 2009 to 4,451 this year. That’s a fantastic success story for a species that numbered just 362 animals back in 1960.

But that success has come with a cost. The sanctuary can only hold and feed so many wild asses. As their numbers grow–and as mesquite limits the amount of accessible water and food available to them–the asses expand their territory. The new census had to cover an additional 15,000 square kilometers beyond what it covered five years ago. This spread puts the animals into direct conflict with humans, especially when the animals start eating crops. It also leaves them susceptible to other dangers; earlier this month two asses were found dead, probably from pesticide poisoning.

Government officials will have to recapture some of the sanctuary land to reduce this conflict and protect the asses in the future. Reclaiming territory taken by the trees won’t be easy–mesquite is hard to kill because its roots thrive so well deep underground–but it can be done. In 2006 filmmaker-turned-naturalist Pradip Krishen reclaimed a 70-kilometer stretch of the Thar Desert in Rajasthan State from a similar mesquite invasion, slowly but surely chopping mesquite’s long roots out of the local rocks using chisels.

Whether or not a similar project would work at Wild Ass Sanctuary remains to be seen, and none are currently in the works. Meanwhile both the asses and invading trees will likely continue to expand their territories–to no one’s advantage but the mesquite’s.

Photo by Navin Sigamany. Used under Creative Commons license

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.

Other uses

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.

General information

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.

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.

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.

Types of Mesquite Trees

The three most common types of mesquite trees are:

  • Honey mesquite
  • Velvet mesquite
  • Screwbean mesquite

1. Honey Mesquite Trees

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.

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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.

2. Velvet Mesquite Trees

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.

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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.

4. Chilean Mesquite Trees

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.

5. Prosopis Juliflora 🔥 TIP: !

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.

Nitrogen Fixing

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.

Home Stratosphere is an award-winning home and garden online publication that’s a result of our talented researchers and writers who work directly with hundreds of professional interior designers, furniture designers, landscape designers and architects from around the world to create helpful, informative, entertaining and inspiring articles and design galleries.

Tags: Trees Categories: Gardens and Landscaping

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Choosing Mesquite Trees for Landscapes

Thanks to Greg Corman for permission to reprint this great article from his July 2009 newsletter. Scroll to the bottom of this page for his contact info, or .

Mesquites are popular choices for landscaping in Southern Arizona and the default choice seems to be the South American hybrid version often called “Chilean mesquite” (above left). It is a favorite with contractors and many homeowners because it is cheap, grows quickly, and has no thorns. The foliage is pretty much evergreen. It sounds like a perfect landscape tree, but in this case, beauty is only bark deep and a better choice for most sites is our very own Velvet mesquite. Here are some side by side comparisons of Chilean mesquite and Velvet mesquite.

Chilean: Usually shallow rooted and/or surrounded by surface roots that heave sidewalks and other infrastructure.
Velvet: Deep rooted. Rarely shows surface roots and not often a cause of heaving for hardscape.

Chilean: Windthrow during periods of high wind is common. The most frequently blown over tree during the monsoon.
Velvet: Windthrow very rare on established specimens.

Chilean: Often exhibits a growth defect called ‘included bark’ that can lead to structural damage in mature trees.
Velvet: ‘Included bark’ is rare in Velvet mesquite.

Chilean: Requires monthly irrigation to thrive in typical urban conditions.
Velvet: Thrives on rainfall alone when established in SE Arizona. It will need irrigation in most Phoenix landscapes.

Chilean: Hybridizing with Velvet mesquites and altering the gene pool of the native species.
Velvet: Native. No problem with hybridization.

Chilean: Anecdotal evidence from bird watchers suggests few bird species use Chileans for foraging.
Velvet: Foraged heavily by warblers, verdins, wrens and many other bird species who are looking for insects to eat.

Both species of mesquite are handsome landscape trees, but given the drawbacks of the Chilean version, it is preferable to choose the native for landscaping here. It is considered slower growing, but still grows very quickly and develops a more stable root system. Desert Survivors Nursery on Starr Pass Boulevard and Civano Nursery on Houghton both procure their seeds for Velvet mesquite from distant areas where hybridization is not a problem. You can count on their native mesquites to grow true to form.

Mesquite: what you should know

What you should know about mesquite

Mesquite (Prosopis spp.) is a legume belonging to the same group of plants as the wattles (Mimosaceae).

There are over 40 different species of mesquite which differ mainly in the appearance of the compound leaves. There are also numerous hybrids. All members of the genus Prosopis are declared plants (noxious weeds) in Western Australia (WA) and are Weeds of National Significance (WoNS). The Prosopis species known to be present in WA are P. glandulosa, P. glandulosa × velutina and P. pallida.

Mesquite trees were planted on many north-west stations in the 1920s for shade and ornamental purposes and also for their nutritious pods. The original plants were spineless and showed little tendency to spread. However, within a few years some trees reverted to wild types with spines and weedy tendencies.

Mesquite trees were initially hard to establish, but spread rapidly after a series of wet years. They have continued to spread in favourable seasons, but do not reduce in area during drought. They now infest many square kilometres of valuable river-front grazing land, especially in the Pilbara region of WA and other parts of northern Australia.

Honey mesquite (P. glandulosa) is a native of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona rangelands. It has become a major weed there due to grazing by cattle, which remove more palatable plants and leave mesquite largely undamaged.

Control of prairie fires may also have favoured mesquite at the expense of other plants. Other species originate from South America.

Mesquite has been introduced to many countries and has become a weed in Australia, several African countries, Asia and the USA. In many third world countries it is valued for fuel wood and the edible pods which are gathered by hand however it also becomes invasive.

Mesquite is an aggressive invader of rangeland. It forms dense thickets which shade out more useful forage plants, interfere with stock mustering and block access to watering places. When cattle eat large amounts of leaf and pods, digestive problems frequently occur. Mesquite has sharp spines which injure animals and puncture vehicle tyres.


Mesquites can be found either as densely branched shrubs about one metre high or as trees that can reach 15 metres or more in height.

The leaves are dark green and divided into numerous small fern-like leaflets. Most varieties have minute hairs on both surfaces.

The twigs are smooth-barked and armed with straight spines which vary in size, but may reach a length of ten centimetres. They are usually found in pairs rising from the leaf base. The wood is hard and reddish brown with an outside layer of yellow sapwood. In the USA it is highly valued as a decorative timber and as a fuel for barbecues.

The flowers are small and greenish-yellow. They are borne near the ends of the branches in cylindrical clusters five to eight centimetres long. The pods are sickle shaped and flattened. They vary from 10 to 20 centimetres in length and about one to two centimetres in width.

Sometimes the pod is constricted between the seeds. Pods are usually green and fleshy when immature, turning hard and straw-coloured when ripe, but some plants bear purple-flecked pods. Each contains 10 to 20 seeds embedded in a sweet pulp.

Seedling mesquite trees are often confused with prickly acacia (Vachellia farnesiana, formerly Acacia farnesiana), also known as prickly bush or mimosa bush. They may be differentiated by three features:

  1. Prickly acacia twigs have small, grey, wart-Iike lumps, while mesquite twigs are smooth.
  2. Prickly acacia has circular yellow flower heads about eight millimetres in diameter.
  3. Prickly acacia flowers produce dark brown, woody pods which contain only one or two seeds each.

Life history

Mesquite is a long-Iived perennial, spread only by seed. Shrubs do not flower until they are two or more years old. Flowering begins in April and peaks in early summer but can occur as late as February. Germination can take place under a wide range of conditions.

Shortly after germination a deep tap root is formed and surface roots spread out while the growth of above ground parts is relatively slow.


Mesquite grows well on a variety of soils including saline and highly alkaline areas, but makes the best growth on alluvial soils associated with water courses. It can draw water from deep in the soil profile.

Seed production is variable but even in seasons of sparse rainfall, some plants may produce a crop of pods. Like many other legumes, mesquite forms a proportion of hard seeds which can remain dormant for many years. Seeds were found to be viable after 44 years storage in the WA herbarium.

Pods are transported by flood water and seeds by animals such as cattle, kangaroos and emus.

Some of the seed passes through the animal without being digested; in fact, this may stimulate germination. When some varieties of mesquite are cut off at the base they rapidly regrow from buds in the roots and stump. They can survive repeated cutting or defoliation for several years.

Further information

For further information on mesquite, search this website or contact the Pest and Disease Information Service.

  • Mesquite: declared pest
  • Mesquite control

Ross T. Shackleton et al. Prosopis: A Global Assessment of the Biogeography, Benefits, Impacts and Management of One of the World’s Worst Woody Invasive Plant Taxa. AoB Plants (2014) 6: plu027 doi: 10.1093/aobpla/plu027. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Annals of Botany Company. Available to view at: http://aobpla.oxfordjournals.org/content/6/plu027.full

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