Honey Locust

Gleditsia triacanthos L.

Fabaceae (Legume family)


This pioneering, long-lived, tree here in Texas is at the far southwest corner of its US distribution. Honey Locust is a medium-sized to large tree usually with a single straight trunk and can reach 100 ft or 25-30 m tall. It is a member of the Legume family (Fabaceae) and can grow in dense, impenetrable thickets. It is easy to identify by its clumps of thorns on its trunk and lower branches.    Young stems tend to be greenish to reddish-brown maturing to gray. On older trees, the bark is grayish brown to black, with clusters of thorns and deep cracks that separate into scaly ridges. The trunk and branches of Honey Locust are densely thorny. The glossy, reddish-brown to dark brown thorns can sometimes be as long as 12 inches or 30 cm and are three-pronged.  The once or twice compound leaves are deciduous and located alternately on the stems. They are shiny dark green above and paler on the underside.  Each leaf can have 15 to 30 elliptical leaflets. Leaflets are up to 2.5 cm wide by 5 cm long with fine teeth.  Flowers appear in May and June after the tree sprouts leaves. They are bell-shaped, minute greenish or whitish, and with five petals in axillary clusters to 10 cmLarge bean pods up to 18 inches or 45 cm ripen in September and October. These pods occur in multiples and are twisted, maturing from green to a dark reddish-brown and having a sweet aroma. In between the 12 to 14 seeds in each pod is a sweet, yellowish substance, hence the common name of Honey Locust.  The plant is considered poor forage for livestock and fair for wildlife. However, the pods themselves are used extensively by wildlife and the flowers prove to be attractive to pollinating insects. 


Honey Locust grows in moist, fertile alluvial soils across the eastern and central parts of Texas. It requires full sun and cannot tolerate shade. It can often be found in open broadleaf woodlands. It can become weedy or invasive displacing more desirable vegetation.