Friday, June 19, 2020

Honey Mesquite

The honey mesquite is a legume and is found in the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico. In the Hayfield Road bajada of the Orocopia Mountains of southeastern California it is a low growing shrub which provides a refuge for quail, rabbits and other animals. The fruit is a bean pod  or seed pod that was eaten by Native Americans and many animals, including deer, Gambel's quail, coyotes, jackrabbits and other small mammals and songbirds. The animals that ate the pods then spread the seeds around after they were digested and defecated.  
A flowering honey mesquite. 
The flowers, particularly when they are young and more white, reflect the early morning light. 
For man, several beverages were made from it: (a) An intoxicating drink was made by cooking the ripe seedpods, grinding them up, adding water, then allowing it to ferment; (b) A milk-like drink was made by cooking immature (green) seedpods and squeezing out the juice; (c) tea was made from the flowers; and (d) the roots were used to flavor drinks.  The bean pods were ground into flour in a mortar, then put in a container, dampened with water and allowed to sit for 24 hours to harden. The meal was then formed into cakes and eaten dry, made into a mush, or mixed with water for the intoxicating drink (above). The ripe pods can be eaten, as-is, without any processing. The Cahuilla roasted the flowers in a pit of heated stones, then formed them into balls and ate them. There were many other uses of the tree as outlined in a USDA guide

The leaves are bipinnate, meaning that, like a fern, the axis is the midrib and there are two leaves, one on each side of the midrib. The leaves are attached to the stem by a petiole. The leaves are willowy and shed each winter. The leaves sprout again in early spring. 
The leaves of the honey mesquite.
Flowers spring from a petiole with buds forming about half-way down and circling the petiole. The flowers are spikelike and surround the petiole like a bottle brush, They are creamy white, then get bushier and turn a golden brown. The blossoms have lots of nectar and are pollinated by bees. 
Petioles connect the branch and the buds.
The buds, center, start to spike out into flowers (top left) and eventually the flower surrounds the petiole (bottom right).
The young flowers are very reflective of the light.
Eventually the flowers enlarge and darken into a golden brown and then begin to form thin bean pods that grown longer and wider. 
The flowers on this branch are transforming into bean pods and the branch has much fewer flowers and larger bean pods than the photo above it. 
A wider image of branches laden with flowers and bean pods. The trees, in this state, can be noticed from long distances. 
Seed pods develop from the flowers with an individual compartment for each seed or bean. When the bean pods are ripe they are reddish-brown. 
The green bean pods are immature.
With the sun hitting the green pods, the compartmentalized seeds can be seen inside the pods. 
The ripe, reddish brown, bean pods.

1 comment:

  1. This bush has an amazing life and so many uses. I love the progression of photos through the season. It makes me wonder what it will look like in August or September. Will you update?