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What is Honey Mesquite?

By R. Stamm
Updated May 17, 2024
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Prosopis glandulosa, or honey mesquite, is a flowering, deciduous tree native to the southwestern United States and Mexico. It is named for its sweet, honey-producing flowers. It is a Spanish adaptation of the Aztec word mizquitl, which means leguminous tree. The pods and fruit of the tree are used in many food items, while the tap roots are used for fuel and household items. It is a fast-growing, showy tree with ornamental blooms and is considered one of the most invasive species outside its natural habitat.

The honey mesquite is a perennial shrub that grows to 30 feet (about 9m) tall and has 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 (about 30cm) in diameter. The tree produces flowers in small clusters from March to November that are a pale yellow color, and it grows 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.

The plant is an aggressive grower which lives alongside desert washes and streams, plains, and hillsides. The tree grows best in arid, well-drained soil and has a high tolerance for hot and cold temperatures. A young shrub will grow slowly at first, but with plenty of direct sunlight and water, the fledgling will mature and can grow up to 2 feet (about 61cm) per year. Regardless of age, the tree is resistant to drought and can survive on minimal amounts of water.

The pod of a honey mesquite tree, along with the sweet fruit inside, is considered a valuable food source for humans and animals. Native Americans relied on the pod as a dietary staple and used it to make tea, syrup, and cakes. Flour made from the pods can be effective in controlling blood sugar levels in some diabetics. Animals such as quail, deer, peccaries, and rabbits eat the pods along with the vegetation, while the fragrant honey of the flowers is attractive to bees and other insects.

The tap roots of the honey mesquite trees are as useful as the pods and the fruit they produce. The tap roots of the trees are considered the best firewood in the desert because they are larger than the trunk, burn slowly, and are smokeless. The wood from the tap root is also used for flooring, furniture, fence posts, and tool handles. The wood is also used to create an aromatic, flavorful charcoal for barbecuing.

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Discussion Comments
By anon153357 — On Feb 17, 2011

I wouldn't be surprised if there's a surge of interest in this plant, since it's prominently featured in the recently released role-playing survival video game Fallout: New Vegas. Fallout: New Vegas is set in and around the Las Vegas/Hoover Dam area in the year 2281, about two hundred years after a nuclear war had devastated the United States.

The game has a strong crafting subsystem, and the player may choose to collect plant and animal items (including honey mesquite and some other indigenous plants such as banana yucca) to consume, to sell, or to make other products.

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