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Pod Bearing Trees - Misc. Species

( Originally Published 1927 )

The Mesquite

Prosopis juliflora, DC.

The mesquite or honey pod is one of the wonderful plants of the arid and semi-arid regions from Colorado and Utah to Texas and southern California. At best it is a tree sixty feet high along the rivers of Arizona. In the higher and more desert stretches it is stunted to a sprawling shrub, with numerous stems but a few feet high. Its leaves are like those of our honey locust but very much smaller, and the tree furnishes little shade. The bark of the trunk is thick, dark reddish brown, shallowly fissured between scaly ridges. In winter the tree looks dead enough, but the young shoots clothed with tender green bring it to life in early spring, and the greenish fragrant flowers, thickly set in finger-like clusters, appear in successive crops from May to July. These are succeeded by pods four to nine inches long in drooping clusters, each containing ten to twenty beans.

Not its beauty of leaf and blossom but its usefulness is what makes this tree almost an object of worship to desert dwellers, red men and white. The long fat pods supply Mexicans and Indians with a nutritious food, green or ripe. Cattle feed upon the young shoots and thrive, when other forage is scant or utterly lacking. The fuel problem of the desert is solved by the mesquite in a way that is a great surprise to the newcomer. His sophisticated neighbor takes him on a wood-gathering expedition. Stopping where a shrubby mesquite sprawls, he hitches his team to a chain or rope that lays hold of the trunk, and hauls the plant out by its roots. And what roots the mesquite has developed in its search for water! There is a central tap root that goes down, down, sometimes sixty feet or more. Secondary roots branch out in all directions, interlock, thicken, and form a labyrinth of woody substance, in quantity and quality that makes the timber above ground a negligible quantity. This wood is cut into building and fencing materials—two great needs in the desert. The waste makes good fuel, and every scrap is precious. Posts, railroad ties, frames for the adobe houses, furniture, fellies of wheels, paving blocks, and charcoal are made of this wonderful tree's root system. A gum resembling gumarabic exudes from the stems.

The Screw-bean

P. pubescens, Benth.

The screw-bean or screw-pod mesquite is a small slender trunked tree with sharp spines at the bases of the hoary foliage. The marked distinction between this species and the preceding one is in the fruit, which makes from twelve to twenty turns as it matures, and forms when ripe a narrow straight spiral, one to two inches long; but when drawn out like a coiled spring the pod is shown to be more than a foot in length. These sweet nutritious pods are a most useful fodder for range cattle, and the wood is used for fencing and fuel. This tree grows from southern Utah and Nevada through New Mexico and Arizona into San Diego County, California, western Texas and northern Mexico.

The Palo Verde Acacia

Cercidium Torreyanum, Sarg.

The palo verde is another green-barked acacia whose leaves are almost obsolete. Miniature honey-locust leaves an inch long unfold, a few here and there in March and April, but they are gone before they fully mature, and the leaf function is carried on entirely by the vivid green branches. Clustered flowers, like little yellow roses, cover the branches in April, and the pointed pods ripen and fall in July.

In the Colorado desert of southern California, in the valley of the lower Gila River in Arizona, on the sides of low canyons and on desert sandhills into Mexico, this small tree, with its multitude of leafless, ascending branches, is one of the brightest features on a hopelessly dun-colored landscape.

The Jamaica Dogwood

Icthyomethia Piscipula, A. S. Hitch.

The Jamaica dogwood is a West Indian tree that grows also in southern Florida and Mexico. It is one of the commonest tropical trees on the Florida West Coast from the shores of Bay Biscayne to the Southern Keys. The leaves are four to nine inches long, with leaflets three to four inches in length, deciduous, vivid green, making a tree fifty feet high an object of tropical luxuriance. Its beauty is greatly enhanced in May by the opening of the pink, pea-like blossoms that hang in drooping clusters a foot or more in length. The necklace-like pods are frilled on four sides with thin papery wings.

The wood of this tree is very durable in contact with water, besides being heavy, close-grained, and hard. It is locally used in boat-building, and for fuel and charcoal. All parts of the tree, but especially the bark of the roots, contain an acid drug of sleep-inducing properties. In the West Indies the powdered leaves, young branches, and the bark of the roots have long been used by the natives to stupefy fish they try to capture.

The Horse Bean

Parkinsonia aculeata, Linn.

The horse bean or retama, native to the valleys of the lower Rio Grande and Colorado River, is a small graceful pod-bearing tree of drooping branches set with strong spines, long leaf-stems, branching and set with many pairs of tiny leaflets.

The bright yellow, fragrant flowers are almost perennial. In Texas the tree is out of bloom only in midwinter. In the tropics, it is ever-blooming. The fruit hangs in graceful racemes, dark orange-brown in color, and compressed between the remote beans. As a hedge and ornamental garden plant, this tree has no equal in the Southwest. It is met with in cultivation in most warm countries.

The Texas Ebony

Zigia flexicaulis, Sudw.

The Texas ebony is a beautiful, acacia-like tree of southern Texas and Mexico. One of the commonest and most beautiful trees on the bluffs along the coast, south of the Rio Grande. Its leaves are feathery, fern-like, its flowers in creamy clusters, its pods thick, almost as large as those of the honey locust. The seeds are palatable and nutritious, green or ripe. Immature, the pods are cooked like string beans; ripe, they are roasted, and the pods themselves are ground and used as a substitute for coffee.

The wood is valuable in fine cabinet work, and because it is almost indestructible in contact with the ground, it is largely used for fence posts. It makes superior fuel. Besides being more valuable than any other tree of the Rio Grande Valley, though it rarely exceeds thirty feet in height, it is worthy of the attention of gardeners as well as foresters in all warm temperate countries. Prof. Sargent calls it the finest ornamental tree native to Texas.

The Frijolito

Sophora secundifiora, DC.

The frijolito or coral-bean is a small, slender narrow-headed tree, with persistent, locust-like leaves, fragrant violet-blue flowers, and small one-sided racemes. The pods are silky white, pencil-like, constricted between the bright scarlet seeds. The tree grows wild in canyons in southern Texas and New Mexico, forming thickets or small groves in low moist limestone soil and stream borders. It is a close relative of the famous pagoda tree of Japan, S. Japonica, universally cultivated; and it deserves to be a garden tree throughout the Southern states.

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