The Honeylocust is a native of North America from the Leguminosae (Pea) family. It is a very popular tree for landscaping throughout the U.S. and grows well in large cities that may have issues with pollution and poor soils as it tolerates high pH, compacted and salty soils. It is also drought tolerant, making it a useful landscaping tree in desert areas. Honeylocust is a fast grower and can grow up to 70 feet high.
The native Honeylocust produces thorns along the trunk and some branches, making it less desirable for public and private landscaping. Thus, a thornless variety is available in most nurseries. Interestingly, the thornless Honeylocust is grow from cuttings taken from the upper branches of thorned Honeylocust.
The Honeylocust is most recognizable by its long dark brown bean-like pods that can remain on the tree long after the leaves have fallen off in winter. You can tell a Honeylocust is near as you’ll probably see a liberal amount of these pods scattered on the ground within close range of the tree. These pods can be a nuisance but if you consider that the leaves themselves are small and quickly disappear, this tree produces about the same amount of autumn cleanup as other species with a lot of leaf litter. Consider also that the seeds can be roasted and ground to make a coffee like drink. The leaves themselves are lanceolate and oblong and very small and create a nice filtered shade for your yard in the summer.
The Honeylocust has unfortunately been overplanted over the years which has made it more susceptible to disease. It’s a good idea to take a look around your area to see if there are a lot of them nearby in your surrounding parks, streetscapes and neighbors’ landscaping. If your area is inundated with Honeylocusts, it might be better to plant other trees suitable for urban areas to avoid insects and disease. This is particularly true in the Southern U.S. Ask your local nursery for advice for trees that are suitable for your region.
For pruning and maintenance, it really depends on what cultivar you pick from your nursery. Some have a central trunk and require less maintenance while others have several main trunks and need a bit more work during the first several years of growth. If you have trouble finding a tree with a central leader, you’ll want to train your tree to have a central trunk with the branches spaced out along the trunk and growing upright. The ‘Skyline’ cultivar is a reliable low maintenance selection.
As far as pests and diseases, you’ll want to watch out for the Mimosa webworm and pod gall midges, which appear as reddish galls on the tips of the branches. These are problems that have become more and more common with the Honeylocust. Spider mites, leafminers, and bagworms may also affect your tree. The ronectria canker is a disease that will damage the trunk and main parts of the tree and is fairly common. You can avoid most of these issues by regularly fertilizing your tree and cleaning up any excess leaf litter.
Check out the Trees of Reed College website for more information about this tree and others found on their campus.