Honey Locust

Gleditsia triacanthos

by John Brouwer

Honey Locust is noted for having its own weaponry. The native honey locust develops clusters of 3-6" branching thorns along its trunk and branches. These thorns are strong, long and present quite a formidable appearance. They are strong enough to puncture tractor tires. Pioneers used the thorns as nails. Botanists think that these formidable weapons were developed thousands of years ago to protect honey locust from the now extinct large herbivores. The array is an evolutionary anachronism from another age.

Armoured honey locust is rare in southern Ontario. The most common form is the spineless honey locust cloned from nursery stock. This tree is popular in the horticultural trade as its pinnate leaves cast pleasant dappled shade in parks and yards. The trees turn to yellow in the fall. The leaves breakdown readily on lawns resulting in a very low maintenance tree.

The name is thought to come from the sweet edible pulp inside the seedpod. These pods are 8-16" long and about 1" wide. This pulp, containing 12-15% sugar, was used as a food source by native peoples and also collected and fermented to make beer. The sweetness in the pod ensures that animals will eat the pod as it drops on the ground – thus ensuring widespread seed dispersal.

Honey locust produces a durable quality wood used in furniture making. Pods have been collected and used as forage for cattle. As the tree is now rare in southern Ontario, existing stands are generally protected.

In a native legend the Thunder Spirit recognized his son by his ability to sit comfortably on honey locust, despite the thorns.

In the co-op we have the thornless honey locust although the native tree would certainly discourage tree climbing. It would be dangerous to plant the armoured variety in areas frequented by children as they could easily be injured.

Honey locust can be grown into a living fence. The long thorns effectively prevent large animals from penetrating a honey locust barrier. Squirrels being chased by predators will run past honey locust and try to reach a much more distant tree.

Honey locust has been planted in the Laurel creek ecological corridor across the road in the approaches to the culverts. As these grow they should create living fences which will funnel animals through the dry culverts under the roadway.

March 2010