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Common Honey Locust Gleditsia triacanthos

 

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Honey Locust, leaves and flowers
credit: Andrew Butko/CCSA

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Family: Fabaceae, Pea view all from this family



Description The Honey locust, Gleditsia triacanthos, is a deciduous tree native to eastern North America. It is mostly found in the moist soil of river valleys ranging from southeastern South Dakota to New Orleans and central Texas, and as far east as eastern Massachusetts.

Honey locusts, Gleditsia triacanthos, can reach a height of 20–30 m (66–100 ft), with fast growth, and are relatively short-lived; their life spans are typically about 120 years, though some live up to 150 years. They are prone to losing large branches in windstorms. The leaves are pinnately compound on older trees but bipinnately compound on vigorous young trees. The leaflets are 1.5–2.5 cm (smaller on bipinnate leaves) and bright green. They turn yellow in the fall (autumn). Leafs out relatively late in spring, but generally slightly earlier than the black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia). The strongly scented cream-colored flowers appear in late spring, in clusters emerging from the base of the leaf axils.

The fruit of the Honey locust is a flat legume (pod) that matures in early autumn. The pods are generally between 15–20 cm. The pulp on the insides of the pods is edible, unlike the Black locust, which is toxic. The seeds are dispersed by grazing herbivores such as cattle and horses, which eat the pod pulp and excrete the seeds in droppings; the animal's digestive system assists in breaking down the hard seed coat, making germination easier.

Honey locusts commonly have thorns 3–10 cm long growing out of the branches, some reaching lengths over 20 cm; these may be single, or branched into several points, and commonly form dense clusters. The thorns are fairly soft and green when young, harden and turn red as they age, then fade to ash grey and turn brittle when mature. These thorns are thought to have evolved to protect the trees from browsing Pleistocene megafauna which may also have been involved in seed dispersal. Thornless forms (Gleditsia triacanthos inermis) are occasionally found growing wild and are available as nursery plants.


Habitat Fields, Scrub, shrub & brushlands, Watersides (fresh).


Range Southwest, Southeast, Plains, New England, Great Lakes, California, Florida, Mid-Atlantic, Texas, Rocky Mountains.


Comments Honey locust is fast-growing and long-lived. It suffers from mites, Mimosa webworm invaders, a number of cankers, and other pests. Exhibits salt-, drought-, heat-, high pH-, and salt-tolerance. Its filtered shade makes underplanting easy. This tree has the ability to spread quickly and can become a weed problem in some pasture areas. Mowing or cutting increases sprouts.


Exposure Preference Sun.


Native Distribution E. Texas to e. South Dakota, e. to Mississippi & Ohio


Site Preference Moist woods; bottomlands; stream banks; drier, upland sites


Soil Preference Moist, deep, well-drained soil. pH 6.1-7.5.


Wildlife Value Seeds are favored by foxes, squirrels and livestock. The tree attracts butterflies and is a nesting site for mourning doves and songbirds.


 

 

 

2007 eNature.com