Native and hybrid honey locust

There are certain trees that are very noticeable in the fall in the Ozarks. One such tree, commonly referred to as “honey locust” is very recognizable due to the long, curled pods that it drops in the fall and the thorns that show up as a predominant feature of the leafless tree.

Honey locust, botanically known as Gleditsia triacanthos, is not a prized tree in the woodlands and farmlands of the Ozarks. The wood is hard, scaly and in some cases, the tree trunks are covered with thorns that are sharp and may be two to three inches in length.

The locust tree is also fertile in infertile soils allowing it to reseed, creating small locust groves where the conditions are right. The pods dropped by the locust tree can create an unwanted mess if the tree is growing in a yard.

In cultivation, the honey locust has been hybridized as a useful tree for urban landscapes. Due to its tolerance to difficult growing conditions, the honey locust is a popular tree for use along city sidewalks where nothing else will grow. These hybridized locust trees do not have the multitude of seedpods found on the native honey locust has. They are also without thorns.

The fruit of the honey locust can be used for fall decoration; it’s an attractive, interesting and quite sturdy seedpod. Beginning in September and October, the honey locust will drop the seedpods which range from six to 18 inches in length. The pods are about an inch in width, mostly flat, dark brown and leathery. The interesting feature about the pod is the way they twist around.

A honey locust seedpod may contain a half dozen to two dozen locust seeds. The seedpods are an important food source to rabbits, squirrels and white-tailed deer during the winter. Native Americans used to eat the sweet flesh of the honey locust seedpod before it dried.

The honey locust has been grown in cultivation since the 1700s. It’s popular as an ornamental shade tree because of its open crown that spreads. The small leaves of the tree allow sunlight to filter through the tree making it possible to grow grass directly under the tree.

The native and hybrid varieties of honey locust have leaflets that are five to 10 inches long with 15 to 30 small, lance-shaped leaves. The leaves are bright green in the spring and summer months, turning a noticeable yellow in the fall.

Although honey locust is not desired in a farm pasture, it does offer some interesting collectables for anyone interested in nature’s freebies. Hybrid honey locust can provide fall color and a variety to the garden’s foliage.

Questions or comments related to gardening? Contact Joleen at missourigardener@hotmail.com.

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