Velvet Mesquite (Velutina)

The Velvet Mesquite (Velutina) is generally described as a perennial tree or shrub. This is native to the U.S. (United States) .

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Ethnobotanic: The pods of this mesquite provided an important food to the Maricopa, Pima, Haulapais, and other tribes of the Southwest and are still very important today. The pods or the seeds alone are ground in a mortar or the seeds are sometimes parched and afterwards ground into a meal that is very nourishing. This meal is eaten as is, used to sweeten other seed mixtures, or made into bread. Traditionally a drink was prepared from the beans by pounding them in a stone mortar, mixing cold water with the flour, and the product was strained and drank. The black gum from the mesquite was an important medicine to the Pima. It was boiled with a little water and applied to sore lips and gums, chapped fingers, and taken internally to cleanse the system. Mesquite leaves were pounded and boiled and placed on the eyes of Pima individuals as a treatment for pink eye. The Pima used black gum in a concoction to dye gray hair black.

Industrial: The wood is used for fence posts and the heartwood takes a fine polish. The flowers are used as a source of bee food in the honey industry.

Wildlife: Mesquite is an important tree to wildlife. The seeds are eaten by jackrabbits, Gambel quail,

songbirds, various small mammals, and domestic livestock. Western chipmunks, ground squirrels, pocket mice, and various species of kangaroo and wood rats consume the foliage. Different birds also nest in the tree's canopy.

General Characteristics

This deciduous shrub or tree is less than 15 m in height with a spreading, rounded crown. Every part of the plant has short, dense hairs. The branches are crooked with spines 1-2 cm. The fern-like compound leaves are divided into many tiny leaflets. The trunk has a shaggy bark. The inflorescence is a spike-like raceme and the yellow corolla has free petals. The fruits are 8-15 cm linear and flat and are tan-colored or sometimes streaked with red.

Required Growing Conditions

This mesquite is found below 1700 m in desert washes and plains in Yavapai County, Arizona east and south to western Texas and northern Mexico. It is common in Sonora at least as far south as Guaymas and uncommon in California, being found in the San Joaquin Valley, and the central and south coasts. For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.

Cultivation and Care

Gather the seed pods and take the seeds out of the pods. Put the seeds in scalding water and let the water cool. Plant seeds in a well-drained soil in deep pots or tree tubes in autumn. Sprinkle soil on top of the seeds and place one-quarter inch gravel on top of the dirt. The seeds should be spaced one-half inch apart and the tree tubes placed in partial shade with morning sun and afternoon shade. Water the containers right away and keep them moist. As soon as the plants form one true leaf, transplant one plant per container and water. Keep the containers watered but allows the surface of the soil to dry out in between watering. Plant each dormant seedling in the ground the following fall or winter in partial sun and well-drained soil. Plants will tolerate cold to 5 degrees F. Protect the plants from wildlife. Water the plants and keep them damp if the rains are insufficient. Also in areas without summer rainfall do some watering in summer, about every 2 to 3 weeks. Continue to water deeply throughout the life of the plant once in awhile. Mesquite should be lightly damp all summer long.


This species is a valuable native of the southwest US. A synonym, Prosopis articulata, referring to a South American plant, is listed as noxious Federally and in the States of Florida and North Carolina (two states that include all names on the Federal list).

General Upkeep and Control

Mesquite can tolerate pruning of the lower branches and it can be shaped into a small tree with an exposed trunk or let grown naturally with the branches touching the ground. PRVI"Management of chokecherry will be dependent on whether it is looked upon as a desirable or undesirable plant. On range and pastures it is often considered a potential hazard to livestock. As a consequence either mechanical and/or herbicide treatments combined with good grassland management is needed to prevent animal loss. When it is used in windbreaks, as an ornamental plant or as a wildlife resource it is beneficial. Control of weedy vegetation, and treatment for potential diseases, is necessary if it is expected to grow for an extended period of years

Pests and Potential Problems Chokecherry is susceptible to X-disease, black knot, stem decay, shothole, Valsa canker, and honey fungus Plowrightia stansburiana. Common insects pests are the prairie tent caterpillar, eastern tent caterpillar and aphids. In the northeastern United States, chokecherry is a primary host of the eastern tent caterpillar. Browsing by deer on young immature trees causes considerable damage in some areas.

Environmental Concerns The leaves, bark, stem, and stone (seed pit) of chokecherry are all toxic. It is potentially poisonous to all classes of livestock, but cattle and sheep are the ones commonly affected. The meaty flesh of the fruit is not toxic.

Hydrocyanic acid (HCN) is often called Prussic acid. HCN does not occur freely as a plant compound. It is formed only after disruption of the plant cell, either by mechanical injury or a sudden freeze. Only then do the degradative enzymes (hydroxynitrile lyases) and glycoside come into contact and mix together. HCN acid occurs in greatest amounts in the leaves. Generally, the amount of HCN in the leaves lessens as the growing season progresses. By autumn chokecherry leaves have so little glycoside, a component of HCN, they are not normally considered hazardous. Drought stress may cause the leaves to concentrate the glycoside in heavier amounts than usual. Wilted leaves are more toxic per unit weight due to dehydration, which concentrates the components, which make up HCN. HCN is so toxic at low levels because it inhibits blood cells from absorbing oxygen. One symptom of HCN poisoning is the blood turns bright red when exposed to the air and it clots abnormally slow.

Cyanogenic glycosides (prunasin, produced in the leaves and twigs, and amygdalin, produced in the stone) are the building blocks for HCN. Of the two, prunasin is found in a much larger quantity. HCN is most commonly formed in the plant due to mechanical injury (such as browsing), a sudden change in temperature (an early and heavy frost) or in the animal during digestion. The glycosides can either be hydrolyzed by enzymes in the plants or by rumen microorganisms. The glycosides occur in vacuoles in plant tissue while the enzymes are found in the cytosol.

Ingestion of about 0.25 percent of an animal's body weight, or 50 milligrams/kilogram of body weight, is the Lethal Dose of fifty percent of animals (LD50). This means less than 4 ounces of fresh leaves can be toxic to a 100 pound animal.

Poisoning generally occurs when animals graze this amount or more in an hour or less. Formation of HCN must occur primarily within the short time between the mastication of the forage and its arrival in the stomach, for the acidic contents of the stomach slows down the reaction of the chemical process which creates the HCN. The toxic elements become even more active if the animal drinks water immediately after browsing. HCN works so quickly by the time poisoning symptoms are identified it is generally too late to treat. Injection of a combination of sodium thiosulfate and sodium nitrite in the veins or peritoneum is the recommended antidote. Oxidizing substances such as potassium permanganate or hydrogen peroxide given as a drench may help some. Any other medications promoting respiratory help and nerve stimulants may also contribute to recovery. For any treatment to be effective it must be given immediately upon symptoms of poisoning.

Removing livestock from the HCN source is the only practical way to prevent mass poisoning and numerous losses once it has been detected. Good livestock management includes keeping hungry livestock away from areas where chokecherry is abundant. Maintaining a good level of preferred forage in pastures will do a great deal in preventing HCN poisoning.

When a person eats a single apple seed or cherry pit, though not recommended, it is unlikely to cause discomfort or serious illness. However, there have been reported deaths, usually of children chewing on the stems and leaves, or swallowing the stones. Visible reactions to poisoning may include; anxiety; uneasiness; confusion; dizziness; vertigo; headache; nausea; vomiting; the lips turn blue; bloating; dilation of the eyes; muscular weakness; abnormal breathing, either very labored or very rapid; paralysis of the throat; irregular heart beat; convulsions; coma ensues and finally death. Clinically, death results from the general anoxic state created by the inhibition of cytochrome oxidase.

Seeds and Plant Production Chokecherry can be propagated by seed, rhizome cuttings, suckers, crown division, semi-hardwood cuttings and grafting. Generally, seed crops are regular and viable. The flowers are more abundant and more fruit is produced on plants growing on open sites or in forest clearings. Natural dispersal of the seed occurs when it passes through the digestive tracts of mammals and birds. The seeds may be carried a long distance from the parent plant in this manner. If the rhizomatous roots are damaged due to a mechanical injury suckers will be produced. This is often how thickets are formed. A fire initially causes major damage to a stand of chokecherry. However, regrowth is enhanced for several years following a burn. It sprouts vigorously from surviving root crowns and suckers arise from the rhizomes. Chokecherry has seed dormancy. About half of the seed which is not stratified germinates within a couple of months. Delayed germination may occur up to 4 months. An after-ripening period in the presence of oxygen and moisture is needed for a majority of seed to germinate. Good germination can only be expected after a cool, moist stratification regime lasting 90 to 160 days at 36 to 41 degrees Fahrenheit. Sow 25 seeds per foot of drill row. Field plant with 1 year old bareroot stock on deep, well-drained soils in sunny locations. "

Plant Basics
General Type Tree, Shrub
Growth Duration Perennial
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA