Though it would hardly be called a tree in most parts of the US, the mesquite has won that title in the arid southwest by dint of sheer perserverance. Where no other tree can thrive there you'll find mesquite. The seeds of these lacy-leaved, spiny survivors provide essential food for many birds and mammals. The seeds, which ripen in summer or fall, are borne in tough pods. Among the top consumers of mesquite seeds are Gambel's quail, scaled quail and dove. Jack rabbits, cottontail rabbits, skunks, kangaroo rats and pocket mice eat seeds, leaves and sometimes bark. Foliage and twigs are eaten by mule deer and white-tailed deer. These trees provide nesting space for birds and welcome shade as well. Since mesquites are a legume, they benefit the soil by restoring nitrogen to it. Their roots often penetrate the ground to a depth of sixty feet. Mesquite trees are frequently attacked by Desert Mistletoe which appears as large clumps in the trees that can weaken and eventually kill them.
Species include common or velvet mesquite (Prosopis velutina) and screwbean mesquite (Prosopis pubescens), which has a tightly coiled spiral seed pod instead of the narrow reddish-brown one of the common mesquite.
Seed pods of the common mesquite, photographed at Hereford, AZ
John Russell Bartlett of the U.S. Boundary Commission of 1850 was one of the first Americans to describe this tree as it grows inthe desert west; he wrote:
Bartlett, John Russell. Personal Narrative of Explorations and Incidents in Texas, New Mexico, California, Sonora and Chihuahua, 1850-53. (1854) Volume I, Chapter IV.
See also: An 1885 trip to the Chiricahua mountains