Mesquite – Prosopis juliflora
Other Names: Bayahonda blanca (Spanish), Ironwood, and hundreds of vernacular names it shares with other Mesquites of the same genus where it grows around the world natively and non-natively.
Distinctive Characteristics: Drought-tolerant, nitrogen-fixing, semi-deciduous, single- or multiple-trunked shrub or tree with twisted, cracked, rough bark. Branches have thorns up to 2 in. long. Characteristic leaves are bi-pinnate, compounded with 12–20 small leaflets. The seedpods, characteristic of leguminous trees, are 8–12 in. (20–30 cm) long and contain 10–30 edible seeds that remain viable for up 10 years. Mesquites have some of the deepest known roots, found at depths up to 175 ft. (53 m) in search of water.
Distribution: Native to Mexico, Central and northern South America, and the Caribbean. The Prosopis genus is an established and aggressive invasive species in the southwest U.S. and other countries outside of its native range, including Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and South America. Elevation: sea level to 6000 ft. (1800 m).
Ecosystem: Plains, canyons, and hillsides in arid and semi-arid regions, near watercourses such as desert washes, streams, arroyos, and creeks.
Maximum Age: Estimated at over 250 years old.
Maximum Height and Girth: Height up to 39 ft. (12 m); circumference up to 12 ft. (3.7 m).
Animal Community: Wild and domestic animals eat the leaves and seeds. Bees make honey from the nectar.
• Medicine: The soothing, astringent, antibiotic, and antiseptic properties of mesquite have long been known and utilized by many native tribes throughout the southwest United States and northern Mexico, including the Pima, Seri, Papapago, Paipai, Paiute, Tewa, Mayo, and Yaqui. The branches, stems, and inner yellow bark were used as purgatives; the stems to treat fever; the bark for bladder infection, measles, or fever. A poultice of leaves was used to treat red ant stings. The pods were used to make eyewashes, to treat sunburn, and as a drink for animal stings. The gum was used externally as an eyewash and to treat skin infection, wounds, burns, chapped fingers and lips, sunburn, hemorrhoids, and lice. Internally, the gum was used to treat sore throat, laryngitis, cough, fever, painful gums, diarrhea, and digestive inflammation, and as a purgative. The leaves were prepared to treat pinkeye, diarrhea, headaches, bladder infections, and painful gums, and to cleanse the digestive tract.
• Food: The seeds can be made into a tea, fermented into an alcoholic beverage, boiled into a sugary syrup, or ground as a highly nutritious flour for baking.
• Fiber: The bark has been used to make cloth, baskets, and rope.
• Tools and Objects: The wood was used for small tools and construction.
• Art and Ceremony: The gum was used to make face paint, hair dye, and pottery paint, and as a glue for mending pottery.
Modern Uses: The small wood is used for small lumber, posts, and tools. Agriculturally, the tree is used for erosion control, windbreaks, and shade, while the leaves and pods are used as livestock fodder. It is also popular as firewood.
Threats and Conservation: Not threatened.