Mesquite trees are tough plants that survive and thrive in some of the driest and least fertile/saline habitats worldwide, sharing space with cacti and other tenacious, water-thrifty species.
They are also incredibly useful. Mesquites (Prosopis spp.), nitrogen-fixing trees to tall shrubs with thin, feathery, fern-like leaves, have long been valued as a resource for food, medicine, firewood, furniture, and other uses.
While considered problematic weeds in some areas, mesquites are useful for soil enrichment via nitrogen fixation, their bean pods are edible (by humans, wildlife, and livestock), and their wood is an excellent source for firewood as well as lumber for furniture. Other commercial income opportunities exist as well, including from intercropping, pod production and grazing. Planting thornless varieties, which we’re going to talk about in a bit, addresses one of the traditional issues ranchers have had with mesquites being located on lands used for grazing.
When it comes to lumber, wood shrinkages are probably the best measure of wood stability, and because wood stability is one of the most important characteristics in furniture manufacture, Prosopis species belong in the company of the world’s finest indoor furniture species. This is especially so when Prosopis lumber’s stability is combined with its attractive reddish-brown wood color and above-average specific gravity and hardness.
Apart from their considerable commercial utility, mesquites are habitat promoters, producing wildlife-attracting beans and providing perches and nesting sites for flying friends, including hummingbirds.
All the benefits outlined above provide the basis for breeding research that builds upon what mesquite trees already contribute to the environments around them. With that, we’re excited to highlight two very promising mesquite hybrids that are close to being ready for everything from serving as cash crops on cattle grazing land to shading residential landscapes. These are drought-hardy, deep-rooted, nitrogen-fixing mesquite trees that have been bred to grow straight, fast, and without thorns. Did you know that mesquite trees are known to send taproots down almost 200 feet to locate moisture? Crazy, right?
Both plants are hybrids of a thornless, erect Texas native mesquite and a cold-hardy thornless Argentine mesquite. At 10 years old, under good tree parent care, they will sport a trunk diameter of 6 to 8 inches and rise to 20 to 25 feet in height.
Among the several specimens that resulted from this hybridization, ‘Mojave’ PPAF has the most finely divided lush foliage (more shade) and the fewest thorns (none). Compared to the other clones, it has a more compact canopy and less height potential.
The clone ‘Sonoran’ PPAF boasts greater height growth than ‘Mojave’, with more widely spaced leaflets. It would be desirable as an ornamental variety where a more airy, open canopy is desired. It has small spines (3/16 inch).
Both trees are summer lovers, handling heat up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit. At the other end of the temperature spectrum, they are considered hardy to USDA Zone 8b (average minimum temperature of 15 to 20 degrees). This includes all of Southern California; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Austin, Texas.
Oh, and speaking (again) of food, the pods of dried beans can be ground into a flour. Roasted pods can be milled into an aromatic flour smelling of cream, coconut and chocolate. And that is just a limited taste of mesquite trees’ value as a food source, to say nothing of the wood’s prized utility as a flavoring agent in the smoking of meats.
Perhaps in the not too distant future you’ll have yourself an airy, dappled shade-providing, heat-loving, thorn-free mesquite tree that will lend a distinctive twist to your homemade pancakes, pastries, and, yes, cookies!
The trees are available wholesale by contract. Please contact Bruce Gibson for ordering information at firstname.lastname@example.org.