|Velvet Mesquite (Prosopis velutina)|
DESCRIPTION: Large shrub or tree up to 30' or higher. Bark dark brown to gray. Spines whitish-gray and straight. Leaves are bipinnately compound. Flowers are greenish-yellow, forming dense, cylindrical, clusters to 4" long in spring and sometimes again after the monsoon rains. Fruit in pods that start out green and turn yellowish-brown. Difficult to differentiate from Honey Mesquite (P. glandulosa) that also occurs in this area (Velvet Mesquite tends to have 4 versus 2 primary leaflets and tends to have duller green leaves compared to Honey Mesquite). Fabaceae (Legume) Family.
NATURAL HISTORY: Holds the record for deepest root (160'); these taproots can "tap" into deep, underground water supplies that aren't available to the "average" plant. Its seeds need to be scarified (abraded in flash flood or digestive tract for example) to germinate. In the Pleistocene over 10,000 years ago, the megafauna (e.g., mastodons and ground sloths) ate, passed, and dispersed the seeds, now cattle often fulfill the niche, to the bane of the ranchers when the mesquite becomes too dense. Yet, Velvet Mesquite has many uses for humans, including food (its pods make a sweet flour), furniture, charcoal ("mesuite-grilled"), fabric, medicine, and it even provides the "gum" of gumdrops. Of course the tree is also valuable to other organisms for food, shelter, etc.