By Debbie Roland and Emmy Ulmschneider, Master Gardeners
Mention the name mesquite and most Texans will roll their eyes! But under the right conditions mesquites are an excellent landscape tree with lots to offer including history, wildlife value, and drought tolerance. The most common type of mesquite in our area is the honey mesquite, Prosopsis glandulosa.
Native to Texas, highly adaptable, heat, cold, and drought tolerant, when it can develop into a tree, it adds attractive blooms and interesting foliage.
Mature trees can reach 30 feet depending on the species. Young trees and new growth do have long lasting thorns, but hybrid mesquites and thornless cultivars are also available. If you are buying for wildlife value, look for the native species. Given water, mesquites can grow quickly.
When planting check to see that your plant is not root bound, a condition caused when roots circle around the outside of the root ball and constrict root growth. Once established, mesquites are drought tolerant and problem free.
Mesquites prefer full sun and grow well in reflected sun as well as partial shade. Prune a mesquite early on to establish a single trunk or prune it over time to show off its multi-trunk shape. It is perfect in a small yard or massed in a larger setting and wherever it grows, can become the backbone of a xeriscape design.
A deciduous tree, mesquites put on new growth in early spring. Folk lore says that winter is over when mesquites leaf out. Shortly after leaf development in early spring, the attractive pale green, yellowish flowers called catkins emerge and cover the tree providing nectar for pollinators of all shapes and sizes. Mesquites are of special value to native bees and provide wildlife cover and nutritious food for small mammals and birds.
Humans have long made use of mesquites. From indigenous peoples through Spanish exploration to westward expansion, we have used mesquites for food, medicine, and wood products. Today, we still prize mesquite for its beautiful wood and have re-discovered mesquite flour as a food with nutritional value. And who doesn’t love mesquite cooked barbeque?
So, if you are looking for a tree with its roots in our West Texas heritage and as hardy, independent, and persevering as our early settlers, then this is the tree for you.
If you have questions, please call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700 for more gardening information. Additional information is available at https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu and westtexasgardening.org.