Mesquite Tree Facts
There are more than 40 species of mesquite trees (Prosopis spp.). These spiny, drought-tolerant plants are found primarily in arid regions of North and South America and are therefore great options for desert landscaping.
Mesquite Tree Species
At least three species of the mesquite tree occur in the Southwest United States, including the honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa, zones 6 to 9), which occurs primarily in Texas and New Mexico. Its range extends into northern Mexico. The honey mesquite tree has a height of up to 30 feet. Prosopis glandulosa is considered an invasive species in parts of Texas.
Also native to the U.S. are velvet mesquite trees (Prosopis velutina, zones 9 to 11), which occur in southern Arizona and get their name from the velvet-like texture of the leaves. The screwbean mesquite (Prosopis pubescens, zones 7 to 10) is a smaller, multi-trunked tree with a height between 16 and 20 feet.
Mesquite wood is used to make charcoal that is valued for the flavor it imparts.
Mesquite Tree Leaves and Flowers
Mesquite tree leaves have double compound leaves. This means that the leaves are made of leaflets, each of which are further divided into small leaflets. The number of leaflets and the space between them varies depending on the species. Most mesquite trees are deciduous, meaning they shed their leaves in the fall. Other species are evergreen.
The stems of mesquite trees feature large spines an inch in length or longer that can cause injuries. However, some hybrid versions of mesquite trees on the market are thornless.
Mesquite trees produce clusters of greenish-yellow flowers that are not particularly showy but are rich in nectar and are therefore attractive to bees (which use it to make a prized variety of honey) as well as other pollinators. These trees bloom in late spring and into summer.
Mesquite Tree Propagation
Mesquite trees belong to the legume family, which also includes beans. A special relationship with bacteria in the soil allows these plants to turn nitrogen from the air into a form the plants can use.
Mesquite trees can only be propagated by seed. Like other legumes, mesquite trees produce their seeds in bean pods. In honey mesquites, the seed pods are straight; however, the bean pods of the screwbean mesquite are coiled, hence the common name of the species.
Mesquite seeds are consumed by wildlife and were also a food source for Native Americans.
Mesquite Tree Care
Because they are native to arid regions, it is no surprise that mesquite plants are quite drought tolerant. This is thanks to a deep taproot that can be up to 100 feet long and can extract water deep below the surface.
Until they become established, however, they should be watered regularly. Without sufficient watering when young, the mesquite tree may not grow into a full-size tree.
Mesquite trees require well-draining soil. They perform best when they are grown in full sun. These trees suffer from few pests or diseases.
Mesquite trees often need to be pruned in order to give them shape and maintain a strong structure, as well as to remove dead or diseased branches. However, pruning must be done with care due to the presence of the spines.
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Prosopis Glandulosa - Mesquite
- The University of Arizona Campus Arboretum: Prosopis velutina
- Texas Natural Resources Server: Mesquite Ecology
- Gardenia: Prosopis pubescens (Screwbean Mesquite)
- The University of Arizona Campus Arboretum: Prosopis alba
- Gardenia: Proposis glandulosa (Honey Mesquite)
- Gardenia: Prosopis velutina (Velvet Mesquite)
Since beginning her career as a professional journalist in 2007, Nathalie Alonso has covered a myriad of topics, including arts, culture and travel, for newspapers and magazines in New York City. She holds a B.A. in American Studies from Columbia University and lives in Queens with her two cats.