Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) trees are native to Eastern North America, and are found in many types of habitats, but they seem to prefer moist river valleys. Growing to around 100 feet, they are a large tree. Probably the most impressive aspect of this tree is its thorns. These thorns can reach lengths of a foot, and are very painful if you happen to get stabbed by one or step on one. One spring a few years ago I was cleaning the remaining firewood off our porch, not realizing that my husband had been using honey locust trees to burn in our wood stove. As I was sweeping the bark and sawdust up I stepped back and ran one of these thorns through my shoe and about 3/4 of an inch into the arch of my foot. It was instant, excruciating pain! Having your foot impaled by one of these wicked thorns is an experience you won't soon forget. My foot swelled and hurt for weeks afterwards. One of the local trails where I regularly lead trail hikes for children has numerous honey locust trees, or thorn trees as they are often called, along the edges of the trail. I am always careful to point these trees out to the children and warn them to be careful where they step, sometimes the thorns are on the trail. When the thorns first appear they will be green, as they age they turn reddish, older thorns are gray and brittle (pictured). These thorns are most likely a form of protection for the tree. Not much can get past those thorns. Birds nest in the clusters of thorns with no fear of being bothered by mammals or snakes.
All is not evil with this amazing tree though. The seed pods are fascinating, they grow to about 7 to 8 inches and the pulp inside is where the tree gets its name. It is sweet and edible, akin to honey. The beans are said to taste like young peas. The Native Americans used it as part of their diet. It can even be fermented to make beer. The beans can also be used to form a type of coffee. A cousin to the honey locust tree is the black locust tree, the pods on this tree are poisonous, although the flowers are edible and are considered a delicacy, especially when they first appear and are fresh. Later blooms will be bitter and not as yummy. The seed pods on the honey locust tree were used to entertain toddlers many years ago, when they dry out the little beans inside will rattle when shaken. So in affect you have a nature-made rattle. These seed pods are a staple for squirrels and other small rodents who love the little beans inside. I often find these pods with holes eaten in them and all the beans gone. Honey Locust trees are a short lived tree, many only living 120 years, with a few specimens living to 150. This doesn't stop them from being plentiful, they spread exponentially. It doesn't take long for these trees to take over in a given area. We have many of them on our farm, and as I mentioned above my husband uses them as firewood, they burn hot and make a good overnight fire. Many landowners use them as fence posts because of their resistance to rot. The thorns of younger trees can even be used as nails in a pinch ( I can attest to this after having my shoe nailed to my foot). Many cultivars have been created from his tree and are planted as an ornamental. They are used as wind breaks, and in urban areas, near parking lots and sidewalks, where other trees have a hard time establishing themselves. They are also used in erosion control.