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Mesquite is a common name for several plants in the genus Prosopis , which contains over 40 species of small leguminous trees. They are native to the southwestern United States and Mexico (except the creeping mesquite, which is native to Argentina, but invasive in southern California). The mesquite originates in the Tamaulipan mezquital ecoregion, in the deserts and xeric shrublands biome, located in the southern United States and northeastern Mexico. It has extremely long roots to seek water from very far under ground. The region covers an area of 141,500 km2 (54,600 sq mi), encompassing a portion of the Gulf Coastal Plain in southern Texas, northern Tamaulipas, northeastern Coahuila, and part of Nuevo León. As a legume, mesquite is one of the few sources of fixed nitrogen in the desert habitat.


This tree blooms from spring to summer. It often produces fruits known as "pods". Prosopis spp. are able to grow up to 8 m tall, depending on site and climate. It is deciduous and depending on location and rainfall can have either deep or shallow roots. Prosopis is considered long-lived because of the low mortality rate after the dicotyledonous stage and juveniles are also able to survive in conditions with low light and drought. The Cahuilla indigenous people of western North America were known to eat the seeds of mesquite. [1]


Prosopis spp. have been in North America since the Pliocene era and their wood has been dated to 3300 yr BP. [2] They are thought to have evolved with megafauna in the New World. The loss of North American megafauna at the end of the Pleistocene era gave way to one theory of how the Prosopis spp. were able to survive. One theory is that the loss of the megafauna allowed Prosopis spp. to use their fruit pods to attract other organisms to spread their seeds; then, with the introduction of livestock, they were able to spread into grasslands. Another is that Prosopis spp. had always been present in grasslands, but recurring fires had delayed plant and seed development before the emergence of livestock and grazing.


The English word mesquite is borrowed from the Spanish word mezquite, which in turn was borrowed from the Nāhuatl term mizquitl. [3] [4] [5]


Mesquites grow as a small shrub in shallow soil or as tall as 50 feet (15 m) in deep soil with adequate moisture, and forms a rounded canopy nearly as wide. They may have one or multiple trunks with a multitude of branches. They have bipinnate leaflets of a light green to blue hue that cast a light to deep shade, depending on the species. Spikes of flowers form in spring and summer that form a flat pod of beans 2 to 6 inches (51 to 152 mm) long. Many varieties form thorns. When cut to the ground, the tree can often recover.


Nonfederal rangeland where native invasive mesquite species are present in the United States Mesquite Range in the United States.jpg
Nonfederal rangeland where native invasive mesquite species are present in the United States

Once the pod is dry, the whole pod is edible and can be ground into flour and made into bread.

Mesquite is native to the US and can be used as a type of lumber. It was a popular type of wood used by early Spaniards to build ships, but is now used most commonly for high-end rustic furniture and cabinets. Scraps and small pieces are used commonly as wood for cooking with smoke in Southern states.

Red-orange sap can be found on the branches of mesquite trees during the summer. This sap was used by those who lived in the desert for several medicinal treatments. The sap was used as a salve and spread on burns and cuts to speed up the healing process. Gargling a mixture of water and sap was used to soothe sore throats, and the same mixture was said to be able to cure upset stomachs. [6]

As an introduced and invasive species

Honey mesquite has 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. [7] Its spread into grasslands is mostly attributed to the introduction of domestic livestock, although other factors include climate change, overgrazing, and the reduction of fire frequency. [8] Although Prosopis spp. are naturally occurring in these areas, these changes have resulted in their being able to successfully outcompete other native plants and they are now considered invasive species because they are able to take advantage of vulnerable ecosystems. [8]

Prosopis spp. are different from most invasive species because they are highly invasive in their native and introduced ranges. Their impacts on the invaded ecosystems include changes to hydrological, energy, and nutrient cycling, as well as consequences to biodiversity and primary production. [1] Prosopis spp. density and canopy cover influence the herbaceous layer and native shrubs and are factors in the changes to the ecosystem.

In the United States, Prosopis has become the dominant woody plant on 38,000,000 hectares (94,000,000 acres) of semiarid grasslands. North America is its native range and due to an imbalance within this ecosystem has been able to spread rapidly. It is considered the most common and widely spread "pest" plant in Texas. An estimated 25% of Texas’ grasslands are infested and 16 million acres are so invaded that it is suppressing the majority of grass production. [2] In Mexico and the US, the two most problematic species are honey mesquite ( Prosopis glandulosa ) and velvet mesquite ( Prosopis velutina). [8] Australia is also affected by the introduction of Prosopis spp., in particular, the P. pallida , P. glandulosa, P. velutina, and their hybrid P. juliflora . Prosopis spp. are ranked nationally as one of the 20 most significant weeds. They now cover almost 1 million hectares of land. Prosopis spp. were originally introduced to help with erosion because of their deep root systems. [9] They also have immediate uses to humans through timber[ citation needed ] and providing a food source through their pods. Since Australia is a hot and semiarid region, Prosopis spp. have been able to become naturalized.

In India, mesquite had been introduced decades ago, but until recently, its effects had not been studied. This genus has been pushing out the Indian wild ass (Equus hemionus khur). [10] This herbivorous mammal eats the pods of Prosopis spp, which was one of the intended purposes of its introduction. Through digesting and excreting the seeds, the Indian wild asses are providing the habitat needed for germination. The 5,000-km2 Indian Wild Ass Sanctuary is experiencing mesquite invasion of roughly 1.95 km2 a year. By overtaking the land, the dense canopy cover of mesquite has made it so native vegetation cannot grow. It has also made watering holes inaccessible to the animals within this region. This lack of resources and range is forcing the endangered Indian wild ass into human landscapes and agriculture fields and locals are killing these asses to protect their crops.

Control strategies

Controlling mesquite is a challenging task. One often-used method is mechanical control. This can be effective with high mortality rates if stems are cut at least 20 cm underground. Another method is through the application of herbicides, done on an individual plant basis. [11] Basal application is effective to mesquite of all sizes, while foliar application is best for plants smaller than 1.5 m. Another physical option for control is through fires. Some species of mesquite are fire-sensitive, while others are fire-tolerant. For those that are fire-sensitive, this method can be highly effective, but those that are fire-tolerant require hot and intense fires to be effective. In Australia, scientists are trying biological control methods. They have introduced multiple insects, but the most effective in causing high population level impact is the leaf-tying moth (Evippe spp.). [12] The most recommended method for managing Prosopis, both in native and introduced ranges, is by targeting large numbers of plants either through herbicide or physical removal. Also, research is being done on using satellite and aerial images to assess canopy cover and determine which ranges should be targeted. [13]


See also

Related Research Articles

<i>Prosopis</i> genus of plants

Prosopis is a genus of flowering plants in the pea family, Fabaceae. It contains around 45 species of spiny trees and shrubs found in subtropical and tropical regions of the Americas, Africa, Western Asia, and South Asia. They often thrive in arid soil and are resistant to drought, on occasion developing extremely deep root systems. Their wood is usually hard, dense and durable. Their fruits are pods and may contain large amounts of sugar. The generic name means "burdock" in late Latin and originated in the Greek language.

Chihuahuan Desert desert

The Chihuahuan Desert is a desert and ecoregion designation covering parts of northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. It occupies much of West Texas, parts of the middle and lower Rio Grande Valley and the lower Pecos Valley in New Mexico, and a portion of southeastern Arizona, as well as the central and northern portions of the Mexican Plateau. It is bordered on the west by the extensive Sierra Madre Occidental range, along with northwestern lowlands of the Sierra Madre Oriental range. On the Mexican side, it covers a large portion of the state of Chihuahua, along with portions of Coahuila, north-eastern Durango, the extreme northern part of Zacatecas, and small western portions of Nuevo León. With an area of about 362,000 km2 (139,769 sq mi), it is the second largest desert of the Americas and the largest in North America.

<i>Triadica sebifera</i> species of plant

Triadica sebifera, the Chinese tallow, Chinese tallowtree, Florida aspen, chicken tree, gray popcorn tree, or candleberry tree, is a tree native to eastern Asia. It is native to eastern China, and Taiwan, and introduced to Japan in Edo period. The waxy coating of the seeds is used for candle and soap making, and the leaves are used as herbal medicine to treat boils. The plant sap and leaves are reputed to be toxic, and decaying leaves from the plant are toxic to other species of plants. The specific epithets sebifera and sebiferum mean "wax-bearing" and refer to the tallow that coats the seeds.

<i>Prosopis juliflora</i> species of plant

Prosopis juliflora is a shrub or small tree in the family Fabaceae, a kind of mesquite. It is native to Mexico, South America and the Caribbean. It has become established as an invasive weed in Africa, Asia, Australia and elsewhere. It is a contributing factor to continuing transmission of malaria, especially during dry periods when sugar sources from native plants are largely unavailable to mosquitoes.

<i>Prosopis pubescens</i> species of plant

Prosopis pubescens, commonly known as screwbean mesquite, is a species of flowering shrub or small tree in the pea family, Fabaceae, that is native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico.

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Scaled quail Species of bird

The scaled quail, also commonly called blue quail or cottontop, is a species of the New World quail family. It is a bluish gray bird found in the arid regions of the Southwestern United States to Central Mexico. This species is an early offshoot of the genus Callipepla, diverging in the Pliocene.

<i>Prosopis pallida</i>

Prosopis pallida is a species of mesquite tree. It has the common names kiawe, huarango and American carob, as well as "bayahonda", "algarrobo pálido", and "algarrobo blanco". It is a thorny legume, native to Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, particularly drier areas near the coast. While threatened in its native habitat, it is considered an invasive species in many other places.

<i>Prosopis glandulosa</i> species of plant

Prosopis glandulosa, commonly known as honey mesquite, is a species of small to medium-sized, thorny shrub or tree in the legume family (Fabaceae).

Ords kangaroo rat species of mammal

Ord's kangaroo rat is a kangaroo rat native to western North America, specifically the Great Plains and the Great Basin, with its range extending from extreme southern Canada to central Mexico.

<i>Prosopis velutina</i> species of plant

Prosopis velutina, commonly known as velvet mesquite, is a small to medium-sized perennial tree. It is a legume adapted to a dry, desert climate. Though considered to be a noxious weed in states outside its natural range, it plays a vital role in the ecology of the Sonoran Desert.

White-throated woodrat species of mammal

The white-throated woodrat is a species of rodent in the family Cricetidae. It is found from central Mexico north to Utah and Colorado in the United States. It is primarily a western species in the United States, extending from central Texas west to southeastern California. Populations east of the Rio Grande in New Mexico and Trans-Pecos Texas, previously considered to be variants of the white-throated woodrat, have since 1988 been assigned to the white-toothed woodrat.

Tamaulipan mezquital

The Tamaulipan mezquital ecoregion, in the deserts and xeric shrublands biome, is located in the southern United States and northeastern Mexico. It covers an area of 141,500 km2 (54,600 sq mi), encompassing a portion of the Gulf Coastal Plain in southern Texas, northern Tamaulipas, northeastern Coahuila, and part of Nuevo León.

Yuma Crossing United States historic place

Yuma Crossing is a site in Arizona and California that is significant for its association with transportation and communication across the Colorado River. It connected New Spain and Las Californias in the Spanish Colonial period in and also during the Western expansion of the United States. Features of the Arizona side include the Yuma Quartermaster Depot and Yuma Territorial Prison. Features on the California Side include Fort Yuma, which protected the area from 1850 to 1885.

<i>Atriplex lentiformis</i> species of plant

Atriplex lentiformis is a species of saltbush.

Mesquite Bosque

Mesquite Bosque is a vegetative association within the Southwestern United States, under the Kuchler scheme of plant association categories.

<i>Prosopis strombulifera</i> species of plant

Prosopis strombulifera is a species of mesquite or algarrobo, a shrub in the legume family. It is known by the English common names Argentine screwbean and creeping screwbean and the Spanish common name retortuño. This shrub is native to Argentina, where it grows in saline soils. It became well known in California after it was introduced to Imperial County and took hold in the wild, growing as an invasive noxious weed. The plant grows from a network of long, spreading roots and may grow to three meters in height. Many plants may grow together in an area, forming a monotypic stand. The shrub has waxy-textured leaves made up of a pair of leaflets which are each divided into several pairs of secondary leaflets each up to a centimeter long. Whitish spines up to 2 cm long appear near the leaf bases. The inflorescence is a spherical head of many very narrow tubelike yellow flowers, the head measuring about 1.5 cm wide. The fruit is a bright yellow seed pod coiled tightly into a cylindrical stick up to 5 cm long. It contains several greenish seeds, each about 0.5 cm long.

Mesquite flour Flour made from dried ground mesquite pods

Mesquite flour is made from the dried and ground pods of the mesquite, a tree that grows throughout Mexico and the southwestern US in arid and drought-prone climates. The flour made from the long, beige-colored seedpods has a sweet, slightly nutty flavor and can be used in a wide variety of applications. It has a high-protein, low-glycemic content and can serve as a gluten-free replacement for flours that contain gluten.

<i>Pleuraphis mutica</i> species of plant

Pleuraphis mutica is a species of grass known by the common name tobosa, or tobosa grass. It is native to Northern Mexico, and the Southwestern United States, in Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.

<i>Prosopis chilensis</i> species of plant

Prosopis chilensis is a species of tree in the genus Prosopis, belonging to the family Fabaceae. It is found in parts of central Chile, southern Peru, Bolivia, and Andean (northwestern) Argentina. Its common names include Chilean mesquite, cupesí, and Chilean algarrobo. It is used for providing shade, for animal feed and for firewood.


  1. 1 2 Klinken, Rieks D. van; Graham, Jodi; Flack, Lloyd K. (2006-01-13). "Population Ecology of Hybrid Mesquite (Prosopis Species) in Western Australia: How Does it Differ from Native Range Invasions and What are the Implications for Impacts and Management?". Biological Invasions. 8 (4): 727–741. doi:10.1007/s10530-005-3427-7. ISSN   1387-3547.
  2. 1 2 Brown, J. R.; Archer, Steve (2013-03-13). "Woody plant invasion of grasslands: establishment of honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa var.glandulosa) on sites differing in herbaceous biomass and grazing history". Oecologia. 80 (1): 19–26. doi:10.1007/BF00789926. ISSN   0029-8549. PMID   23494340.
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  5. Entry for mesquite in the Online Etymology Dictionary.
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