Plant Study: Honey Locust

Honey Locust, Gleditsia triacanthos.

Hailing from the Fabaceae family, the peas, Honey Locust is a medium-large deciduous tree native to central North America. It can become very invasive outside its native area and is banned in some areas, so do your research before you plant this beautiful, edible, medicinal tree. Honey Locust is an aggressive, fast-growing, short-lived tree that establishes itself well in hostile environments, thriving in dry, hot, windy, freezing, compacted and alkaline conditions. Its resilience makes it an ideal plant for ecological restoration initiatives and planting following new development. Offering four seasons of landscape interest, its fragrant blossoms appear in spring, followed by feathery bipinnate leaves, offering lovely shade in summer and bright yellow fall foliage. In winter, its twisted, leathery pods cling to the bare branches, adding character to the winter garden landscape–one of my favourites! The wild variety is thorned, but specific thornless cultivars are available from nurseries.

When ripe, the 8-12″ pods are filled with edible pulp that has been used for many ages by Native peoples as a food source and medicine. Recent studies show its effectiveness in treating some cancers, ulcers, indigestion and colitis. The juice is an antiseptic, and the pulp can be added to smoothies, dehydrated, or fermented into beer. The hard, flat seeds inside the pulp can be ground into flour and used in baking. Get creative with this one, but don’t mistake it for its close relative Black Locust, which is toxic!

This beloved Permaculture plant is an excellent addition to any forage system. There is debate surrounding whether this pea family member fixes nitrogen, as it does not produce the typical nitrogen-fixing root nodules. Still, regardless, it is undoubtedly a helpful landscape plant–providing it is not invasive in your area! There is a small, niche furniture market for the solid and rot-resistant Honey Locust wood, which used to be utilized in shipmaking to create wood nails. It is high-quality and polishes well.

Beware the close relative Black Locust!

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Published by Bethany Latham

Hi guys! I am Bethany. I am a nature lover, Permaculture designer, passionate about ecology, sustainability and learning. I have two adorable huskies and far too many houseplants.

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