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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 in order to seek water from very far underground. 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.

<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.

Legume Plant in the family Fabaceae

A legume is a plant in the family Fabaceae, or the fruit or seed of such a plant. Legumes are grown agriculturally, primarily for human consumption, for livestock forage and silage, and as soil-enhancing green manure. Well-known legumes include alfalfa, clover, peas, chickpeas, lentils, lupin bean, mesquite, carob, soybeans, peanuts and tamarind. Legumes produce a botanically unique type of fruit – a simple dry fruit that develops from a simple carpel and usually dehisces on two sides. A common name for this type of fruit is a pod, although the term "pod" is also applied to a number of other fruit types, such as that of vanilla and of the radish.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.


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, with regards to site and climate. It is deciduous and depending on location and rainfall can have either deep or shallow roots. Prosopis spp 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]

Cahuilla Native American people

The Cahuilla, also known as ʔívil̃uqaletem or Ivilyuqaletem, are a Native American people of the inland areas of southern California. Their original territory included an area of about 2,400 square miles (6,200 km2). The traditional Cahuilla territory was near the geographic center of Southern California. It was bounded to the north by the San Bernardino Mountains, to the south by Borrego Springs and the Chocolate Mountains, to the east by the Colorado Desert, and to the west by the San Jacinto Plain and the eastern slopes of the Palomar Mountains.


Prosopisspp has been in North America since the Pliocene era and its wood is dated 3300 yr BP. [2] It is 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 was able to survive. One theory is that the loss of the megafauna allowed Prosopis spp to use its fruit pods to attract other organisms to spread its seeds; then with the introduction of livestock it was 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 Pliocene Epoch is the epoch in the geologic timescale that extends from 5.333 million to 2.58 million years BP. It is the second and youngest epoch of the Neogene Period in the Cenozoic Era. The Pliocene follows the Miocene Epoch and is followed by the Pleistocene Epoch. Prior to the 2009 revision of the geologic time scale, which placed the four most recent major glaciations entirely within the Pleistocene, the Pliocene also included the Gelasian stage, which lasted from 2.588 to 1.806 million years ago, and is now included in the Pleistocene.


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


Mesquite grows 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. Mesquite has 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.


Non-federal rangeland where native invasive mesquite species are present in the United States. Mesquite Range in the United States.jpg
Non-federal 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 one of the most expensive types of lumber in the US.[ citation needed ] 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, and bring a premium on the market.

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. [6] The 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. [7] Although Prosopis spp is naturally occurring in these areas these changes have resulted in Prosopis spp being able to successfully outcompete other native plants and is now considered an invasive species due to the fact that it was able to take advantage of vulnerable ecosystems. [7]

Prosopis spp is different from most invasive species because it is highly invasive in its native range as well as introduced ranges. Its 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 spp 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. It is estimated that about 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). [7] 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 is ranked nationally as one of the twenty most significant weeds. It now covers almost 1 million hectares of land. Prosopis spp was originally introduced to help with erosion because of its deep root system. [8] It also has immediate uses to humans through timber and providing a food source through its pods. Since Australia is a hot and semi-arid region, Prosopis spp has been able to become naturalized.

In India Prosopis spp had been introduced decades ago but it was not until recently that its effects had been studied. This plant species has been pushing out the Indian wild ass (Equus hemionus khur). [9] This herbivorous mammal eats the pods of Prosopis spp, which is 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 square-kilometer Indian Wild Ass Sanctuary is experiencing mesquite invasion of roughly 1.95 square-kilometers a year. By overtaking the land, the dense canopy cover of Prosopis spp 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 in order to protect their crops.

Control strategies

Controlling Prosopis spp is a challenging task. One method that is often used 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 and this is done on an individual plant basis. [10] Basal application is effective to Prosopis spp 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). [11] The most recommended method for managing Prosopis, both in native and introduced ranges, is by targeting large amounts of plants either through herbicide or physical removal. There is also new research being done on using satellite and aerial images to assess canopy cover and determine which ranges should be targeted. [12]


See also

Related Research Articles

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<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, Taiwan, and Japan. 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.

Fire ecology scientific discipline concerned with natural processes involving fire in an ecosystem and the ecological effects

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<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.

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

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

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<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.

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Tamaulipan mezquital

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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

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 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>Eragrostis lehmanniana</i> species of plant

Eragrostis lehmanniana is a species of grass known by the common name Lehmann lovegrass. It is native to southern Africa. It is present elsewhere as an introduced species. It is well known as an invasive weed in some areas, such as Arizona in the United States.

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

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<i>Lycium pallidum</i> species of plant

Lycium pallidum is a species of flowering plant in the nightshade family known by the common names pale wolfberry and pale desert-thorn. It is native to northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. In Mexico it can be found in Sonora, Chihuahua, Zacatecas, and San Luis Potosi. In the United States it occurs from California to Texas and as far north as Utah and Colorado.


  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.
  3. Entry for mizquitl in the A Nahuatl–English Dictionary and Concordance to the Cantares Mexicanos by John Bierhorst (p. 216).
  4. Entry for mesquite in the Diccionario de la lengua española (Real Academia Española).
  5. Entry for mesquite in the Online Etymology Dictionary.
  6. "100 of the World's Worst Invasive Alien Species" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-11-27.
  7. 1 2 3 "Mesquite ecology « Texas Natural Resources Server". Retrieved 2016-04-28.
  8. Cullen, Jim; Julien, Mic; McFadyen, Rachel (2012-03-05). Biological Control of Weeds in Australia. Csiro Publishing. ISBN   9780643104211.
  9. Platt, John R. "Mesquite Invasion Threatens a Unique Species in India". Scientific American Blog Network. Retrieved 2016-04-28.
  11. "Mesquite Management" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-26.
  12. Mirik, Mustafa; Ansley, R. James (2012-06-29). "Utility of Satellite and Aerial Images for Quantification of Canopy Cover and Infilling Rates of the Invasive Woody Species Honey Mesquite (Prosopis Glandulosa) on Rangeland". Remote Sensing. 4 (7): 1947–1962. doi:10.3390/rs4071947.
  13. "nature-mesquite". Retrieved 3 October 2018.