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Mesquite (from Nahuatl mizquitl) is a leguminous plant of the Prosopis genus found in Northern Mexicomarker and the United Statesmarker from the U.S.-Mexico border in Texasmarker and New Mexicomarker up to southwestern Kansasmarker and from southeastern Californiamarker and southwestern Utahmarker to the southern limits of the Sonoran desertmarker. Mesquite trees are also found in the Chihuahuan Desert of Mexicomarker.


These deciduous trees generally 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 to 3 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), velvet mesquite (Prosopis velutina), creeping mesquite (Prosopis strombulifera), and screwbean mesquite (Prosopis pubescens).

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 190 ft {58 m} depth). However, it can also use water in the upper part of the ground, depending upon availability. The tree can easily and rapidly switch from utilizing one water source to the other.

Many people, especially ranchers, consider the tree a nuisance because they believe 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. However, salt cedar has had a greater effect on water consumption, in some cases even displacing existing mesquite.

Mesquite thorns
Eradicating mesquite is difficult because the plant's bud regeneration zone can extend down to 6 inches (150 mm) below ground level. The tree can regenerate from a piece of root left in the soil. Some herbicides are not effective or only partially effective against mesquite. Grubbing techniques for removal, while effective against short-term regrowth, are expensive, costing upwards of $70/acre ($17,000/km²).

New growth of mesquite has needle-sharp thorns up to 75 mm (3 in) long. The spines are tough enough to penetrate the soft soles of sneakers or similar footwear and can easily puncture tires. Fortunately older branches lose their spine as they grow, making it safer around children, pets, and animals.

Ecology and Ethnobotany

Bee forage

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


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, although this is rather newly discovered and is still a poorly understood part of its life cycle.


The bean pods of the mesquite can be dried and ground into 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 for 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.

Mesquite roasting or grilling can also smoke flavour steaks, chicken, pork & fish. Mesquite smoke flavoring can be added to vegetable stir-fries, scrambled eggs, soups, even ice cream. One small company in West Texas, the Mesquite Roasted Coffee Co., even roasts green coffee beans over open mesquite fires producing a dark rich roasted coffee with just a light hint of mesquite smoke flavoring.

Wild animals also eat mesquite bean pods. In places like Death Valleymarker and much of the Sonoran Desertmarker coyote feces consisting almost entirely of mesquite beans and pods can often be seen .

Traditional medicine

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


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 saws, chain saws, and other tools. It must be noted, however, that mequite and Ironwood are different species.

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

As an introduced species

The species Prosopis pallida was introduced to Hawaiimarker 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.

Mesquite has also been introduced to parts of Africa, Asia and Australia and is considered by the World Conservation Union as one of the world's most problematic invasive species.


See also



  1. Drought Tolerant Trees and Plants
  2. Mesquite Removal on a Shortgrass Ecosystem
  3. How Much of a Water Thief is Mesquite?
  4. Discussion at the Stakeholder Advisory Forum for the Southern Gulf Coast aquifer Groundwater Availability Model
  5. Salt Cedar: A Noxious Weed
  6. issg Database: Ecology of Tamarix ramosissima
  7. Mesquite Info
  8. The Mesquite
  9. Ecological Consequences of Mesquite Fixation of Nitrogen
  10. Amsden, M. (2006) RAWvolution: Gourmet Living Cuisine. HarperCollins Publishing. Retrieved on August 30, 2009.
  11. Prosopis pallida species info
  12. Information resources, including Tropical agriculture publications

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