Honey locust, sweet bean, sweet locust, three thorn acacia, thornless honey locust
Fabaceae, the legume or bean family
The name Honey Locust is derived from the Latin word locusta, ‘insect’, most probably because the beans of the plant resemble locusts.
The honey locust is a member of the legume family that might be up to 30-40 meters tall. It is a deciduous plant and sheds its leaves annually. Having a deep taproot (3-4 m) makes it suitable for agroforestry purposes.
In a young plant, the stem bears flat thorns that tend to thicken as it becomes a tree. It has an erect trunk that is about 50-60 cm thick and forms an open, branched crown above. Branches also bear thorns that may be flat or larger.
The leaves are typical of the legume family, are compound, and bear leaflets that are oblong and sparse.
Speaking of inflorescence, it is fragrant and racemose, meaning the flowers start forming near the trunk and then upward, with no single flower at the top. Flowers are small, greenish or yellowish-white, and can be male, female, or hermaphrodite.
Fruits are dark brown, large, seed-bearing pods that twist and turn down as they mature. The surface of the pods is leathery and gives a soft feel when you touch it, though it is tough innately. Seeds are small, with pulpy covering outside. Pods mature in the late summer and shed from the tree in autumn, with seeds (aka beans) inside them.
Honey locust is a very important plant due to its distribution and is loved by animals and people alike. Its pulp can be converted into delicious sweet dishes. Wild, as well as domesticated animals like goats, cattle, and cats, are fond of its pods. Pods are used as a vegetable and cooked in some areas. Pod pulp is also used in the brewing industry. Honey locust leaves, as well as pods, are eaten by cattle and the tree is used as fodder in many areas.
Its seeds should be ground and then fed to cattle, although many animals like sheep do not like ground seeds and relish the intact one, provided they are sugar-rich.
Bees relish its flowers as a source of nectar, and this is the reason behind its name. The tree is an excellent source of firewood and lumber as well. Honey locusts are also grown for ornamental purposes along highways and as an agroforestry species.
Honey locust originated somewhere in the Eastern USA and then it spread across Middle-East, Asia, and Australia. It is fast-growing and can start flowering 3 years after planting. This tree has a matchless endurance and can withstand heavy frosts as well as dry periods. It prefers moist but well-drained soils but does not like shade. If grown on alluvium rich, delta soils, it shows rapid and profuse growth. It also dislikes high winds.
Soil erosion and windbreak
The environmental impact of honey locusts is immense and of a diverse nature. It can help reduce the amount of soil erosion as it has a long taproot. In eroding soils, it can be planted in association with living mulch and this will check soil erosion almost immediately. In Asia, it is cultivated to provide foliage for cattle and to improve the soil quality. It also serves as an excellent windbreak, protecting and shielding the soil from the harms of wind erosion.
It was previously thought that honey locust does not fix nitrogen as its roots are devoid of nodules, but recent research has confirmed its ability to do so without forming nodules. So it is not different from other members of the legume family in fixing atmospheric nitrogen in forms that can be assimilated by plants, thus contributing to the fertility of the land they are growing in.
Honey locust is an excellent species for agroforestry purposes and its deep taproot does not interfere with the roots of other plants which are mostly grasses. On the other hand, it provides light shade in scorching heat and thus protects smaller plants. The leaves and pods fall to the ground and contribute to the overall health of the soil, making it more nutrient-rich.
As a tree Honey locust is very invasive and can replace native vegetation voraciously. It forms thickets that can impend natural water flows. It gives rise to a kind of monoculture that proves a haven for pests. Even when it is dead, its thorns can wound animals leading to infection and serious problems for them.
Interesting facts about the Honey locust
After a research-backed plant description that may appear dry to some readers, in the following, we have tried to cover some interesting facts about honey locusts. These facts can serve as a review and a summary of the entire page.
- this can reach a height of 100 m and are full of thorns except for some ornamental species also known as thornless honey locusts.
- it have brown, rather blackish bark that may be deeply furrowed in some older trees.
- its leaves eventually turn yellow and fall off the tree in autumn.
- it develops flowers in the summer that are yellowish and attract pollinators which are mostly insects and birds.
- its pods are fruits and are initially green in color, turning brown upon maturing, and contain black seeds also called beans.
- it can be propagated via seeds as well as cuttings.
- its seeds are eaten by wild animals like foxes, rabbits, squirrels, as well as domesticated animals like cattle, goats, and deer. Young shoots and pods are eaten alike by these animals.
- These animals also serve to propagate honey locust seeds and pass them on along their feces after the hard seed coat has been softened in their digestive tract.
- its pulp is sugary in taste and native Americans use it as a raw sweet.
- its wood is used as lumber as well as timber.
- it extracts are thought to be useful in rheumatoid arthritis.
- honey locust can live in the wild for up to 150 years. But, in Urban areas, this tree has longevity of only about one hundred years.