Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Honeylocust Trees


Hello fellow readers,


Honeylocust Seedpods

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 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. The tree reminds me of a porcupine, a docile creature until they need to use its quills for protection. It’s remarkable how nature creates mechanisms to protect critters and plants from predators.

The spikes evolved to protect Honeylocust from predators.

Honeylocust’s sharp spikes are prominent when the tree is naked of leaves.

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.

At 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.


The seedpods hang like ornaments.

Honeylocust is native from Pennsylvania to Iowa and south to Georgia and Texas. Growing thirty to seventy feet high and wide in Zones 3-9, it prefers six hours of direct sunlight daily. 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. They can live to be 120 years old, 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 Honeylocusts as opportunistic but not aggressive, with shallow root systems that go well beyond their canopy if needed. Ben sells primarily ‘Skyline,’ ‘Shademaster,’ and ‘Sunburst’ (Golden) thornless varieties.

Despite the thorns, I’ll plant the seeds come spring and see what miracles occur. It occurs to me that snagging the seed pods and bringing them elsewhere is much like how birds and other critters transport seeds from here to there in nature. Nature’s way of sharing gifts and growing them forward. May we all do the same. Happy New Year.

Garden Dilemmas? (and now on your favorite Podcast App.)

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.

Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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