Mesquite Trees; Here To Stay!

Wherever you look in the Sonoran Desert there are mesquite trees. These shrubby, small trees armed with thorns are in the legume family. They bear flowers, but more noticeably are the large seed pods eaten by coyote in the winter or collected by humans to mill and use the mesquite flour for baking.

A mesquite tree’s taproot can reach subsurface water 150 feet below ground level. Ranchers are not happy with these trees on their land since less water is then not available for their livestock and farming land. I know about that taproot because even in my backyard if I do not want a mesquite tree growing in a certain location I need to dig deep to get it out, or I will see it sprout again. This however is due to the fact the tree’s bud regeneration zone is 6 inches below ground level.

Mesquite tree growing in a park area.

Often we notice mistletoe growing in a mesquite tree. Unfortunately this mesquite mistletoe is a hemiparasitic plant. It sends rootlike structures into the mesquite’s tree branches and takes water and minerals from the tree and in time can be detrimental to the tree. The mistletoe does carry on its own photosynthesis and produces red to clear berries eaten by phainopepla. Mistletoe seeds are dispersed via the bird defecating or wiping its bill.

Look up into the tree and see mistletoe stealing nutrients.
Mistletoe killed the tree and now it has no way to get nutrients and it will die too.

Another observation related to mesquite trees is they are “nurse trees” for young saguaro cacti. The cacti and tree do compete for the same resources, thus hastening the death of the tree. As a result, young saguaro cacti are near mesquite trees and old cacti are not.

Mesquite trees will live a long time in the desert. Once fully grown at 20 years, they are known to live 100 years. If only they could speak … what perspective would the tree have about the world around it? We can sit under the shade of the trees and wonder.

Mesquite trees offer some nice shade on hot days in the desert!