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Types of Locust Trees

Locust wood is so hard and durable that it is used for making rails and fence posts. As a young man,
President Abraham Lincoln used to split rails from locust trees. Thus he earned the nickname Rail
Locusts are fast-growing, hardy trees that belong to the pea family Fabaceae or Leguminosae. Most
of the locust species are classified into two genera - Gleditsia and Robinia. While the genus Gleditsia
has 12 species, there are around ten species in the genus Robinia. The most popular among them
are Robinia pseudoacacia (black locust) and Gleditsia triacanthos (honey locust). Both are
deciduous, and are grown as landscape trees. You may also come across different locust cultivars.
Even the carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua) and the African locust bean tree (Parkia biglobosa) are called
locust trees. They too belong to the family Fabaceae. Though there are more than 20 species of
locust trees, two species are very popular. They are black locust and honey locust trees. Here is a
brief overview about some of the characteristic features of these trees.
Black Locust
The Tree: Otherwise known as false acacia, the black locust tree (Robinia pseudoacacia), is fast
growing and hardy. It can grow to a height of around 25 meters and a diameter of around one meter.
You may come across some of the very old black locust trees that have a height of around 50 meters
and a diameter of 1.5 meters.
Flowers: The black locust tree produces white flowers that are intensely fragrant; and are arranged
on axillary, pendulous racemes. You may also come across some black locusts with pink or purple
flowers. The flowers are produced in hanging clusters that can be four to ten inches long. Each
flower is around an inch in length. Black locust flowers are consumed in some regions.
Leaves and Seed Pods: The leaves are pinnately compound, with a length of around 25 centimeters.
Each leaf has nine to nineteen leaflets, that are roughly oval. The leaflets resemble our thumbprints,
in size and shape. Each leaf has a single leaflet at the tip. The leaves turn yellowish during autumn.
The legume fruit contains seeds. As compared to some other locust species, the seed pods of the
black locust are small and light.
Bark and Thorns: A mature black locust tree produces numerous branches, and has a dark and
deeply furrowed bark. One of the characteristic features of this tree is the short, prickly thorns that
are located at the base of the leaves. The thorns of black locust trees are short, when compared to
that of honey locusts. They do not have the branched thorns that are seen on the trunk of honey
locust trees.
Though they are mainly grown for ornamental purposes, black locusts are much valued for their
hard and durable wood. In some regions, the black locust is cultivated as a honey plant. In other
words, the blooms of black locust is a source of nectar for honey bees in that area. Apart from the
flowers, the bark, seed pods and every other part of this tree are considered toxic; but it is also said
that the toxicity can be nullified through cooking. It has also been contended that the tender seed
pods as well as the seeds can be boiled and consumed.
Honey Locust

The Tree: The honey locust tree (Gleditsia triacanthos) is otherwise known as sweet bean, sweet
locust, and honey shuck. It is a fast-growing tree that grows to a height of around 30 meters and a
diameter of around one meter. The honey locust is grown for ornamental purposes, as it has an
attractive fall foliage. Some varieties of honey locusts, like Gleditsia triacanthos inermis, do not have
thorns and seed pods. The image below depicts a sunburst honey locust tree that has no thorns and
seed pods. You may also come across honey locust cultivars that are very popular as landscape
Leaves: The bright green leaves are pinnately compound, but you may also find compound pinnate
leaves in honey locust trees. Unlike black locusts, most of the leaves of honey locusts letterbox drop
melbourne have no leaflet at the tip. The bright green leaves turn yellow during early autumn. Both
black and honey locust trees produce new leaves during late spring. However, honey locusts develop
new leaves, slightly earlier than the black ones.
Thorns: Honey locusts carry thorns on their branches, and at the base of leaves. These thorns are
longer (around 3 to 10 cm); and are seen in dense clusters. The young and tender thorns are green
and soft. As they age, the thorns turn harder and reddish brown. Fully mature thorns are brittle, and
are usually ash gray in color. The tree is also known as thorny locust.
Flowers: The strong-scented, creamy-green flowers are very small; and develop in clusters. Flowers
of honey locusts are often found as inconspicuous spikes that develop from the base of leaf axils.
While the male and female flowers are produced in different trees, some of them have both types in
the same tree. The male flowers are found as dense clusters, whereas the female flowers are loosely
arranged on the rachis.
Seed Pods: The female honey locust trees produce long, flat and twisted fruits (or seed pods). The
pale green seed pods turn reddish-brown and black, when they mature. As they ripen, the seed pods
produce a strong smell. The sticky pulp inside the pods are edible. These seed pods fall off the tree
during winter.
Unlike black locusts, honey locust trees are not honey plants. The name may be derived from the
sweetness of the pulp that is also used for making beer. Its timber is highly valued for making
furniture, as it is hard and durable. The seeds pods are used as fodder for livestock. Like black
locust, different parts of the honey locust tree are also used for medicinal purposes.
These are some of the interesting facts about locust trees. A basic understanding about their
characteristic features may prove helpful for locust tree identification. In order to identify a locust
tree; check the size of the tree, the color and texture of its bark, shape and arrangement of leaflets,
flower color and structure, and nature of seed pods and thorns.