Honey Mesquite

Common Names:
Honey Mesquite
Scientific name:
Prosopis glandulosa
Subspecies | Variants:
Prosopis glandulosa var. torreyana
Elevation range:
<5,000 ft.
Flowering Months:
April, May, June, July, August
Height | Length:
6-20 ft.
Life Cycle | Lifeform:
Water-indicating plant, Sweet scent, Attracts native bees, Food for insects & larvae, Food for birds, Nesting place for birds
Ancestral Usage:
food, medicinal, ritual or tobacco, clothing/shoes, basketry/tools, fuel, shelter
State Occurrences:
Desert region:
Chihuahuan, Mojave, Sonoran

Ubiquitous in many parts of the desert, Honey Mesquite is a vital part of the ecosystem. This tree is primarily pollinated by bees but other insects, including many butterflies also find sustenance in its nectar. Rabbits, mice, ground squirrels, javelina, coyotes, kit foxes, and other mammals' means of survival is due to its presence in arid landscapes for food and shelter. A large number of birds also depend on Mesquite for food and as a nesting site.

Honey Mesquite is almost unquestionably the most important food plant of native tribes in the Southwest. Wide-ranging tree from desert washes and slopes of the California mountains eastward through Arizona, New Mexico and into western Texas. The fruit is rich, sweet and nutritious and was most often stored away in basket granaries. When ready to use, pounded into meal and formed into flattened cakes. Flowers were sometimes boiled or roasted for nourishment if no fruit was available. Early farmers may have realized the nitrogen-fixing benefits of this plant on their crops, for they were said to leave mesquites growing amongst the crops or surrounding them to enrich the soil.

Mesquite was used for fuel for fires used in cooking, adding a flavor that is still prized today. Fires made from this wood burned hot, providing heat during the cold season and very useful in firing clay pottery. The branches and stems were scraped and formed into various tools for digging, hunting and weapons. Ramadas were made from mesquite, adobe or rock shelters were covered with the wood as protection from sun and wind. The fibrous wood was used to make rope, and stumps were formed into a rounded shape with hot coals and used as mortars. Some tribes fashioned musical instruments with the wood for rituals and ceremonies.

Leaves or seed pods from this plant were ground into a mash and applied topically as an antiseptic or astringent for bites, cuts, and pink eye. Taken internally as an infusion, it was said to be a remedy for sore throats, fever, gastrointestinal maladies, and urinary issues to name only a few. This tree and its bark, stems, leaves, blossoms and fruit were used to treat any ailment that comes to mind. For all of its uses, it truly was the tree of life for native peoples.

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Honey Mesquite in the desert

Prosopis glandulosa branches bear spike inflorescences of tiny yellow flowers that have a furry look to them.  Oasis of Mara, Joshua Tree National Park | April 12, 2015

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Honey Mesquite in the desert

Detail of flowers, bark and leaves of Prosopis glandulosa. Oasis of Mara, Joshua Tree National Park | April 2015

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Honey Mesquite in the desert

Prosopis glandulosa has small linear paired leaves on threadlike petioles, giving it a feathery appearance. Anza Borrego Desert State Park | April 2011

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Honey Mesquite in the desert

Always requiring groundwater, the Prosopis glandulosa tree grows to 20-30 ft. in height. Bow Willow, Anza Borrego Desert State park | February 2005