September 23, 2020

The "Anti-Social" Honey Locust Tree

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If you come across a tree with an arrangement of sharp thorns along its bark don’t be afraid, you've just met the highly adaptive Gleditsia triacanthos, otherwise known as the honey locust.  The honey locust is an attractive and useful tree that is commonly planted as a landscape tree for its beauty and toughness. It is a deciduous tree in the legume family, native to central North America where it is mostly found in rich moist soil of river valleys. Its leaves are delicate and narrow, arranged in an alternating compound form that allows more light to reach the ground and can permit other trees or plants to flourish underneath its canopy.

In the fall the leaves can turn to a vibrant golden yellow. A fast grower the honey locust commonly reaches heights of around 70 to 100 feet with a medium-long life of 120 years. Often honeylocust trees planted in cities are thornless and often seedless and transplants easily even in less than ideal soil including; compacted, road salt, alkaline soil, heat, or drought-affected. The long slender pods you see are 15 to 40 cm long with sticky and sweet bean-like seeds.

You may think the name means this tree produces some type of sap but the honey locust is not a significant sap plant, rather,  the sweetness is found in the legume pulp, which was used for food and medicine, and tea by Native American people. Additionally, the seeds can be used as a coffee substitute and can even be fermented. And fun fact: In the past, the hard thorns of the younger trees were used as nails and the wood itself was used to fashion treenails for shipbuilding.

The honey locust is easy to grow and requires very little maintenance. So easy in fact, you could try growing one as a quick and fun learning project with kids or as your own project!