Texas Ironwood - Mesquite Trees
Photograph by Edward Snook of a Honey Mesquite Tree
Mesquite is an extremely hardy, drought-tolerant plant because it can draw water from the water table through its long taproot (recorded at up to 190 ft in depth). However, it can also use water in the upper part of the ground, depending upon availability. The tree can easily and rapidly switch from utilizing one water source to the other.
Many people, especially ranchers, consider the tree a nuisance because they believe it competes with rangeland grasses for moisture. In many parts of Texas, particularly West and Central Texas, the proliferation of mesquite is partly responsible for lowering of groundwater tables.
Eradicating mesquite is difficult because the plant's bud regeneration zone can extend down to 6 inches (150 mm) below ground level. The tree can regenerate from a piece of root left in the soil. Some herbicides are not effective or only partially effective against mesquite.
New growth of mesquite has needle-sharp thorns up to 75 mm (3 in) long. The spines are tough enough to penetrate the soft soles of sneakers or similar footwear, and can easily puncture tires.
The tree's flowers provide a nectar source for bees to produce mesquite honey (monofloral honey), which has a characteristic flavor.
Mesquite trees grow quickly and furnish shade and wildlife habitat where other trees will not grow. Being a legume, it fixes nitrogen in the soil where it grows, although this is rather newly discovered and is still a poorly understood part of its life cycle.
The bean pods of the mesquite can be dried and ground into flour, adding a sweet, nutty taste to pieces of bread, or used to make jelly or wine.
Mesquite leaves were once used medicinally; water infused with the leaves can be used as eye drops.
Mesquite wood is hard, allowing it to be used for furniture and implements. Wood from the Prosopis juliflora and Prosopis glandulosa is used for decorative woodworking and woodturning. It is highly desirable due to its dimensional stability. The hard, dense lumber is also sold as Texas Ironwood.
As firewood, mesquite burns slowly. When used to barbecue, the smoke from the wood adds a distinct flavor to the food.
As an introduced species
Mesquite has also been introduced to parts of Africa, Asia, and Australia, and is considered by the World Conservation Union as one of the world's most problematic invasive species.
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