Mesquite

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For other uses, see Mesquite (disambiguation).
A Mesquite tree in Tucson, Arizona

Mesquite (from Nahuatl mizquitl /ˈmiskit͡ɬ/) is a common name for several species of leguminous plants of the Prosopis genus found in northern Mexico through the Sonoran Desert and Chihuahuan Deserts, and up into the Southwestern United States as far north as southern Kansas, west to the Colorado Desert in California, and east to the eastern fifth of Texas, where average annual rainfall is more than 101 cm (40 in). Several species are found in arid to semi-arid regions of southern and western South America.

Description[edit]

Legumes of the Chilean mesquite (Prosopis chilensis)

These deciduous trees can reach a height of 6 to 9 m (20 to 30 ft) although in most of their range they are shrub size. They have narrow, bipinnately compound leaves 50 to 75 mm (2.0 to 3.0 in) long, of which the pinnules are sharply pointed. Twigs have a characteristic zig-zag form. Some common species of mesquite are honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), Prosopis juliflora, velvet mesquite (Prosopis velutina), creeping mesquite (Prosopis strombulifera), and screwbean mesquite (Prosopis pubescens). New growth of mesquite has needle-sharp thorns up to 75 mm (3.0 in) long. The spines are tough enough to penetrate the soft soles of sneakers or similar footwear, and can easily puncture tires.

Effect on water table[edit]

Mesquite is an extremely hardy, drought-tolerant plant because it can draw water from the water table through its long taproot (recorded at up to 58 m (190 ft) depth). It can also use water in the upper part of the ground, depending upon availability. The tree can easily and rapidly switch from using one water source to the other.

Many people, especially ranchers, consider the tree a nuisance because it competes with rangeland grasses for moisture. In many parts of Texas, particularly West and Central Texas, the proliferation of mesquite is blamed for lowering of groundwater tables.[1] However, salt cedar has had a greater effect on water consumption in riparian areas, in some cases even displacing existing mesquite.[2][3]

Thorns of Prosopis pallida

Bee forage[edit]

The tree's flowers provide a nectar source for bees to produce mesquite honey (monofloral honey), which has a characteristic flavor.[4]

Environment[edit]

Mesquite trees grow quickly and furnish shade and wildlife habitat where other trees will not grow. Being a legume, it fixes nitrogen in the soil where it grows,[5] improving soil fertility. Mesquite is a phreatophyte, which means it has deep roots and transpires efficiently. For this reason, one method of managing water loss in arid areas is the removal of mesquite.[6]

Food[edit]

The bean pods of the mesquite can be dried and ground into Mesquite flour, adding a sweet, nutty taste to breads, or used to make jelly or wine.

When used in baking, the mesquite bean flour is used in combination with other flours – substitute ¼ cup-to-½ cup mesquite flour in each cup grain flour. Mesquite bean flour is used in breads, pancakes, muffins, cakes and even cookies. Mesquite powder is also high in calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and zinc, and is rich in the amino acid lysine.[7]

Wild animals also eat mesquite bean pods. In places like Death Valley and much of the Sonoran Desert coyote feces consisting almost entirely of mesquite beans and pods can often be seen [clarification needed].

It is important to note that the bean has a low amount of an anti-nutrition protein that interferes with enzymes that convert proteins into amino acids (called trypsin inhibitors) as well as Phytohemagglutinins. It is unwise to eat these beans raw; they should be cooked to destroy these harmful proteins.[8]

Traditional medicine[edit]

Mesquite leaves were once used medicinally; water infused with the leaves can be used as eye drops.[citation needed]

Cultivation[edit]

Several Prosopis species and cultivars are cultivated in the horticulture trade as an ornamental tree for native plant, drought tolerant, and habitat gardens, and also various types of municipal and commercial landscape projects.

Wood[edit]

Mesquite wood is hard, allowing it to be used for furniture and implements. Wood from Prosopis juliflora and Prosopis glandulosa is used for decorative woodworking and woodturning. It is highly desirable due to its dimensional stability after being fully cured. The hard, dense lumber is also sold as "Texas Ironwood" and is rather harsh on chain saws and other tools.

As firewood, mesquite burns slowly and very hot. When used to barbecue, the smoke from the wood adds a distinct flavor to the food. This is common in the Southwest and Texas-style barbecue.

Mesquite-wood roasting or grilling is used to smoke-flavor steaks, chicken, pork, and fish. Mesquite smoke flavoring can be added to vegetable stir-fries, scrambled eggs, soups, and even ice cream.

As an introduced and invasive species[edit]

The species Prosopis pallida was introduced to Hawaii in 1828 and is now very common in the drier coastal parts of the islands, where it is called the kiawe tree, which is a prime source of monofloral honey production.[9]

In Australia invasive mesquite species are causing severe negative economical and environmental impacts. With their thorns and many low branches the mesquite shrubs forms impenetrable thickets which prevent cattle from accessing watering holes, etc. They also take over pastoral grasslands and suck up scarce water. The mesquite causes land erosion due to the loss of the grasslands that are habitats for native plants and animals. The mesquite thickets also provide shelter for feral animals such as pigs and cats.[10]

Mesquite has also been introduced to parts of Africa,[11] Asia and Australia and is considered by the World Conservation Union as one of the world's most problematic invasive species.[12] For more information on invasiveness of mesquite species, see Prosopis juliflora.

Eradication[edit]

Eradicating mesquite is difficult because the plant's bud regeneration zone can extend down to 6 in (150 mm) below ground level;[13][14] the tree can regenerate from a piece of root left in the soil.[13] Some herbicides are not effective or only partially effective against mesquite. Spray techniques for removal, while effective against short-term regrowth, are expensive, costing upwards of $70/acre ($170/hectare) in the USA. Removing large trees requires tracked equipment; costs can approach $2,000 per acre. In Australia several techniques are employed to remove mesquite.[10]

Species[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]