Velvet Mesquite - Prosopis
Common names: Common Mesquite,
Velvet mesquite is one of the most common native plants of the
Southwest desert and is important to the wild animals due to its
edible beans and the shelter it provides. Velvet mesquite is a
deciduous tree - part of the year it drops its leaves. Edible beans and shelter
provided by the branches and leaves makes Prosopis velutina a good plant for the survivalist or
naturalist to learn to identify.
Description: Velvet mesquite, one
of America’s wild plants, is the largest of the mesquite species.
This plant of southwest is a small to medium sized perennial tree.
It grows less than 45 feet in height with a spreading,
rounded crown with a two foot diameter trunk. The branches are
crooked with spines approximately 1-2” long. As can be seen in the
picture, the compound leaves look fern-like. The leaf has two sets
of compound leaves, usually with four major leaflets and 10-20
narrow minor leaflets 1/3 to 1/2 inch long, which grow opposite each
other on the stem. The leaves are dark to dusky green with a gray,
hairy surface and paler undersides.The youngest
branches may be green and photosynthetic.
When young, the bark of this native plant is reddish-brown and
smooth. As can be seen in the picture, the bark on older trees
becomes gray-brown, rough, thick, and shaggy looking.
As the picture shows, the flowers are yellow-green drooping catkins
about 2-3 inches long. The flowers have bell-shaped calyces, and 5
petals. The flowers are tiny, but there are hundreds in a catkin.
Location: Velvet mesquite forms
dense thickets and woodlands along streams and river areas. Prosopis
is typically found below 4,000 to 5,000 feet. Velvet mesquite ranges
from central and southern Arizona, extreme southwestern New Mexico,
and adjacent northern Mexico. It can be found growing in the
Chihuahua, Sonoran, and Mojave deserts. It is uncommon in
California, being found in the San Joaquin Valley, and the central
and south coasts. It has been introduced to other areas and has
expanded its native range.
Edible: The pods or the seeds can be
ground in a mortar or the seeds can be parched and afterwards ground
into a meal that is nourishing. This meal is eaten as is, used to
sweeten other seed mixtures or made into bread. A drink can be
prepared from the beans by pounding them in a stone mortar and then
mixing cold water with the flour.
Notes of Interest: The pods of
velvet mesquite provided an important wild edible food for the Native
Americans of the Southwest and is still important today so being
able to identify this mesquite will help with wilderness survival.
The pods with the seeds or just the seeds alone can be ground into a
meal. The meal can be used as a “flour” when cooking.
Mesquite are members of the legume family. Like most legumes this
Southwest plant restores nitrogen to the soil - a very cool thing
mesquite has a massive root system which can grow down as far as 50
Mesquite is important to native wildlife. The seeds are a wild food
source for rabbits, Gambel quail and jackrabbits, songbirds, various small mammals, and domestic livestock. Western
chipmunks, ground squirrels, pocket mice, and various species of
kangaroo and wood rats consume the foliage. Different birds also
nest in the tree's canopy.