Honey Locust – A Sweet Tree to Plant

Are you looking for a honey of a tree to plant in London, Ontario? Why not consider the honey locust. While rare in Canada, there are some wild honey locusts which occur naturally in Southwestern Ontario. Due to its tolerance to drought, salt and alkaline soil, it is also a popular street tree planted by the City of London and many other urban centres. And why not? The honey locust has lots of things going for it.

Honey locusts are popular trees in the urban forest due to their fast growth and tolerance to difficult conditions

Sweet Traits of the Honey Locust

Gleditsia triacanthos is a medium-sized tree. They grow upwards of 30 metres in height and have a diameter of approximately 90 cm. In urban settings, they live to about 120 years old and are considered quick-growing. They are intolerant to shade, rather preferring a full sun location. If you have difficult soil conditions, this is the tree for you, as it tolerates a wide range of pH levels and soil types.

Leaves

Leaves on a honey locust are alternate, doubly & single pinnately compound

Difficult conditions aside, why would you choose the honey locust? In an urban setting, its feathery leaves offer a nice dappled shade to lawns below. Leaves are pinnately compound; single when young, turning to doubly compound on older trees. There may be 14-30 leaflets on a single stalk (15-20 cm long) with 4-7 pairs of branches on a doubly compound leaf (25-40 cm long).

Honey locusts are late to leaf out in spring, but the green leaves turn a golden-yellow in the autumn. The best part is that despite being a deciduous tree, the leaves break apart when they fall, leaving you with little cleanup required.

As it ages, the bark on a honey locust goes from smooth to deeply furrowed with scaly ridges

Bark & Twigs

Young trees have a smooth brownish bark marked with vertical lenticels. As honey locusts age, their bark becomes deeply furrowed, often featuring scaly ridges. Twigs are long and zigzagged. Some species feature long, sharp thorns on both the trunk and branches, but many nurseries have thornless varieties available.

Flowers & Fruit

Honey locust trees are late to leaf out and flower at the same time as the leaves appear. Flowers are greenish white and heavily scented, but fairly inconspicuous. As the name suggests, the nectar from the flowers is sweet, thus attracting plenty of pollinators to the dioecious tree. While a tree may contain both male and female flowers, they are usually on separate twigs.

Unripe honey locust pods.jpg

Unripe honey locust pods – By Davidals – Own work, CC BY 3.0, Link

Once pollinated, the male flowers fall off and the females form into the tree’s fruit. Honey locusts bear 15-40 cm long pods. The flattish leathery pods are twisted and turn brown, before falling off in the early winter. They contain a green gel and 10-20 brown seeds (1 cm). Whether eaten and dispersed, or left to remain on the ground, honey locust seeds remain viable for many years.

Other Random Facts

What else do you need to know about honey locust trees? They are a great food source for animals. The wood is heavy, hard and strong, not to mention decay resistant. In years gone by this made it a good choice for fence posts and furniture makers. While you don’t want to fall into them, their sharpness made the thorns an option for nails. Indigenous people ate the fruit pulp, while others fermented it into beer.

And most importantly, the honey locust gets the seal of approval from CLC Tree Services, if you are looking for a tree to plant. Call us if you want to learn more about this tough tree.

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