Saturday, March 12, 2011


 As promised, I would write about a native tree that is used in our landscape here in Tucson.  It's a beautiful tree that requires very little maintenance.  There are several varieties of mesquite....and some are better suited than others.  I'll show you several popular mesquites that grow well here in Tucson.  No need to fertilize these trees as they do it all themselves.  Generally roots are shallow and wide and can be seen sticking out on top of the soil.  This tree will provide you with unique tree structure in the winter and a ferny shade during our hot summer months.  The bean pods can be messy, but overall this tree is a solid performer here in Tucson.  There are two species here at El Presidio....our native mesquite and a Chilean mesquite.  There are some cons against this tree, but I'll write about these as we go along on our mesquite journey.
The Chilean Mesquite

This tree is a lovely specimen here in our gardens, but notice the thorns on the stems!!  The frost also created a huge mess as all the leaves fell and created piles of debris.  During the summer, it adds lots of lovely shade, but I am constantly keeping the canopy up from our sidewalk as people walk under it to get into the courtyard.  This tree has caused me great pain and lots of bloody moments....even with gloves.  My recommendation is to get the thornless hybrid that is now available.  This is a wonderful tree at our place and adds some really nice dimension to our tree canopy on the courtyard.
   Just avoid the thorns if you can.......
"Chilean Mesquite is often used as a shade tree because the trees are usually inexpensive and readily available. The trees have a dense, wide canopy. They grow quickly to a size about 25 feet wide and 25 feet tall, yet have a relatively shallow root structure that may even be visible on the ground surface. Over-watering is a danger, since it can cause the tree to grow too quickly and become top-heavy. Once a tree becomes too heavy at the top, the likelihood of it blowing over in a strong wind increases. Chilean mesquite trees may not have thorns at all, or if they do have thorns, the thorns are likely to be smaller than those of other mesquite. Its' bark is dark brown. The foliage is nearly evergreen."

Velvet Mesquite

This is the other variety that grows on our property.  I love the lush look in the summer.  It's also a fast grower for me and tends to have weaker limbs.  Be careful placing near cars or the home as a microburst might have you calling your insurance agent.  One morning, after a strong evening storm, I woke up to find a huge limb snap off onto the ground.

"The Velvet Mesquite is a native of the Sonoran Desert, one of the largest and hottest deserts in North America that spans much of Arizona, parts of California and the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California. Velvet Mesquite trees are often in shorter supply and are not usually as good for creating shade as other varieties. They are deep rooted, making them better able to stand up to strong winds. Velvet Mesquite has a canopy that is less dense than the Chilean mesquite. It is slower growing and does not grow as tall. Because the trees are slow growing, they are not inclined to outgrow their roots systems."

The Argentine Mesquite

Larger, lusher, greener....sexier....but again, those thorns!!
"Argentine Mesquite has long thorns, the longest of any mesquite tree. In general, it is the fastest-growing variety of mesquite, and the least vulnerable to wind damage. Argentine mesquites lose their leaves, but only for a short season of a few weeks each year. Its bark is dark brown."

Texas Honey Mesquite

This tree is more green and willow like.  It's actually one of my favorites.

"A characteristic of Texas Honey Mesquites is its drooping branches. The trees have thorns, and the thorns are long, although the number of thorns tends to be fewer than on other mesquite varieties. This variety drops all of its leaves in winter, allowing winter sunlight to penetrate through its branches. It is a fast-growing tree and provides shade in summer. If a Texas Honey Mesquite is watered too heavily, an excess of heavy growth is likely to occur and its branches may be inclined to split. "

Lastly, we have the Screwbean Mesquite.....and I absolutely love this tree.  It's all over the East Side of town.....check out the medians of Pantano toward Golk Links Road. that you've seen just a sampling of the varieties of mesquite out there.  You need to be careful when planting these trees.  As stated, these trees can and will blow over during a storm.  My recommendation is to follow the overwatering rule....don't! This past summer, I wrote an article on trees being blown over around Tucson.  Every summer, lots of mesquite trees are knocked over onto roads, homes, cars, and sidewalks.  To prevent this from happening, place your mesquite away from strong wind areas and make sure that they have an open canopy for air to pass through.  Microbursts are common occurrences during our summer monsoon and a strong wind burst will pick the tree up like an umbrella and throw it across an area....roots and all.  Branches breaking off of the velvet mesquite are also a concern.

Okay enough on the negative because this plant is really nice to have one last treat for my gardening friends in Tucson.  TEP has a great tree program for our area and I'll provide the link below.  If you think you fit the requirements, you may be eligible for some free to low cost trees on your property.  I received some lovely velvet mesquite, desert willow, and blue palo verde trees one year free of cost to make our neighborhood a bit more green.  Click on the link below for more information.  It's called "Trees for Tucson".

Other mesquite source:

One last cool tip.....the pods off of certain mesquite trees, like our native mesquite, can be ground up into flour.  Just an FYI for you gardeners out there:)  The Chilean and Argentine varieties don't make a nice, again, think native:) And of course the wood makes for an excellent bbq experience. Until next time.....


  1. Mesquites are so under-used in Abq, it is a shame. While the South American species can't take our cold, the Velvet, Honey, and Screwbean mesquites all grow so well; the last 2 are native. Hopefully, some day they will get more use like in Tucson.

  2. All I knew about mesquite before your post was the BBQ part. :-)
    Those thorns are impressive.

  3. I should probably also note that they shouldn't be planted near parking lots as several of these trees can push the pavement up....but this is a great tree for the yard.


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