Monday, November 14, 2016

Mesquite Trees—The Bane of Texas Land Owners

My idea for this post came from two things—first what I learned about mesquites from my research on San Antonio (I'll share that information in my post next month) and my own experience with the tree which I shared below.

Source:  Texas Almanac - The Source For All Things Texan since 1857
The Ubiquitous Mesquite

When my family moved to Brownwood, Texas in the early 1980s, the house we bought had a big, beautiful mesquite tree in the front yard. My husband wanted to cut it down. "It'll steal water from the grass and other trees." But I insisted it remain, and remain it did. I loved that tree. It had character.

At the time our son was six years old. One afternoon after school, he went into the front yard to play. He had a rope, probably six feet long, and he'd been told repeatedly not to tie it to any part of his body. My daughter and I sat on the sofa in the den chatting when I asked her to go out front and check on her brother. She comes in screaming, "He's hanging on the tree."

He'd tied the rope to the tree and then hoisted himself up enough to somehow get the other end through the belt loop and tied. He was in quite an uncomfortable position as the jeans were cutting into him. He had them unsnapped and unzipped and was ready to fall out on his head.

Google Image
I looked everywhere for a picture of that tree but couldn't find one. So, here is one from Google Images. Mesquites grow in interesting configurations. If you have a chance to drive around some of the older neighborhoods in San Antonio, take a look at some of the old mesquites that have been saved and are well loved by their owners.

And yes, because the mesquite has an extensive root system, it does steal water from other trees and grasses. Tap roots can reach 25 to 65 feet deep, some even deeper. In contrast, the longleaf pine has an exceptionally long tap root from 12 to 15 feet. Though it depletes water, the mesquite does return nitrogen to the soil unlike other plants that rob soil of nitrogen. It is good at survival as it can adapt to any soil that isn't soggy. Beans can remain dormant year, up to 40, waiting for right conditions.

Google Image
For ranchers and farmers needing grazing land for their animals, mesquites are a nuisance. It's not uncommon to see land being cleared of the misshapen trees.

Of all the mesquite trees in the US, 76% grow in the state of Texas. Texas has seven varieties. There are over 40 species of mesquites and they grow all over the world. They vary in size, but can grow 40 to 50 feet tall with a spread of 40 feet or more.

Google Image
The leaves of the mesquite are delicate and feathery, the thorns are tough and from 2-7 inches long. They grow from the base of the leaf stems. From spring to autumn they produce fluffy, creamy white flowers. (Personally I've never seen these flowers. Our variety didn't have them, but from now on I'll be looking for them.) In late summer the bean pods, 4-9 inches long, mature. They are covered in a sweet coating that is 30% sugar and can be chewed for the coating, not the beans.

Mesquite beans provide food for livestock when grain in scarce. They provide shade, they supply food for wildlife—quail, doves, ravens, turkey, mallard ducks, white-tail and mule deer, and the list goes on.

The mesquite tree is one of the last trees to put on leaves in the spring, usually in late April or May so it is rarely hurt by spring cold. In the 19th and 20th centuries, farmers watched the mesquite tree and didn't plant their cotton or tomatoes until they leafed out.

I hope you've enjoyed this first installment and will join me December 14th for Uses for Mesquite in the early days.

Happy Reading and Writing!


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