Hello fellow readers,
A few of you that follow me on Facebook & Instagram asked about the long bean-looking things that decorate my window boxes. They’re slightly twisted, about eight inches long, nifty rust in color with a lovely sheen. I pilfered them from along the side of the road on a walk with Miss Ellie.
The Honeylocust from which they came, (Gleditsia triacanthos), looks imposing this time of the year. Its sharp spikes are prominent when the tree is naked of leaves. It’s remarkable how nature creates mechanisms to protect critters and plants from predators. The tree reminds me of a porcupine, docile creatures until they need to use their quills for protection.
The spikes evolved to protect Honeylocust from predators.
Honeylocust’s spikes evolved to protect the tree from being browsed. The two to four-inch spikes are often clustered along the trunk and spread out along the branches. They start soft and green before they harden to reddish-brown then shift to grey. And, like the porcupine, Honeylocust is harmless unless you tamper with the tree.
Other times of the year, the roadside Honeylocust catches my eye too. Especially in the fall when it turns a golden yellow. Its shaggy clusters of leaflets look almost fuzzy, becoming like Big Bird in the landscape. Then, when the leaves drop, the twisted seedpods hang like ornaments. It’s the sweet pulp of the seedpods that gives Honeylocust its common name.
You can buy a thornless Honeylocust.
As beautiful as it is, the native Honeylocust is not typically available in the trades because of the spikes, though you can buy thornless varieties. And, you can find the thornless Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis growing in the wild. They were once considered an ideal lawn tree, writes Michael Dirr in the go-to Manual of Woody Plants. They are fast-growing, two-feet a year, and provide dappled shade, which allows grass to grow below it. However, their overuse has lessened their popularity.
Honeylocust is native from Pennsylvania to Iowa and south to Georgia and Texas. It’s remarkably adaptable tolerating all types of soils, salt, pollution, and other urban stresses, as well as moderate flooding and drought. It’s ideal for sloped sites in need of erosion control. Growing thirty to seventy feet high and wide in Zones 3-9, it prefers six hours of direct sunlight a day. They can live to be 120 years old, which is short-lived in tree years.
Popular thornless varieties of Honeylocust:
While its flowers aren’t showy, they’re fragrant, and magnets for pollinators. An associate nurseryman, Ben Jansen of E.P. Jansen Nursery, says the flowers can create two inches of petal debris when they drop, a nuisance to some. He described Honeylocust as opportunistic, but not aggressive, with shallow root systems that go well beyond their canopy if they need to. Ben sells primarily ‘Skyline,’ ‘Shademaster,’ and ‘Sunburst’ (Golden) thornless varieties.
Despite the thorns, I’ll plant the seeds come spring and see what miracles take place. It occurs to me snagging the seed pods, and bringing them elsewhere is much like how in nature birds and other critters transport seeds from here to there. Natures way of sharing gifts and growing them forward. May we all do the same. Happy New Year.
I invite you to click through to a column titled We’re All Just Seeds to learn more about how seeds spread.
And, Decorating with Leave Behinds to view the window box graced with Honeylocust seedpods.