Tree Service Hampton Roads Spotlight: Gleditsia triacanthos

Gleditsia triacanthos

TRADE NAME: Honey locust

FAMILY: Fabaceae

GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Mostly found in the moist soil of river valleys ranging from southeastern South Dakota to Louisiana; central Hampton Roads; northeast along the western slopes of the Appalachians; and as far east as eastern Massachusetts. Isolated populations also occur in northwestern Florida.

WOOD VALUE: Honey locust wood is dense, hard, coarse-grained, strong, shock-resistant, takes a high polish and is durable in contact with soil. Is used locally for posts, pallets, crates, general construction, furniture, interior finish, turnery and firewood.

OTHER USES: Thornless varieties are commonly planted as an ornamental, particularly on dry sites. Pods are being fermented for ethanol production in studies to explore the feasibility of biomass fuels. Is also a source of pollen and nectar for honey.

SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Begins to flower when its leaves are nearly full grown, from around May 10 in the southern parts of its range to around June 25 in the northern parts of its range. The legumes ripen from September to October, usually falling after ripening but sometimes remaining on the tree through February.


  • A native, deciduous tree. Mature heights usually range from 49 to 98 feet, with a maximum height of 140 feet. In natural stands, averages 70 to 80 feet tall.
  • Is armed with heavy-branched thorns on the lower branches and trunk.
  • The crown is plume-like and open. The bole is usually short and often divided near the ground.
  • The bark of mature trunks is usually 0.25 to 0.75 inches thick, with narrow ridges divided by fissures. The bark peels in strips.
  • The thick, fibrous roots are deep and wide-spreading. Is generally sturdy and wind-firm.
  • Its fruit is a legume that’s 8 to 16 inches long and 1 to 1.4 inches wide.
  • Average longevity is around 125 years.
  • Unlike most leguminous species, honey locust doesn’t form Rhizobium nodules on its roots and doesn’t fix nitrogen.


  • Suggested uses include shade, street tree, massing and specimen plant.
  • Thornless and fruitless varieties have been developed by the horticultural industry and are used extensively in landscaping.
  • Is very hardy and is often used in parking lot islands and along sidewalks. The open canopy and small leaves won’t shade out turfgrasses or other landscape plants.
  • Once established, is generally maintenance- free. Pruning of lower limbs will encourage tall, upright growth.
  • Is susceptible to triclopyr and to a mixture of picloram and 2,4-D.
  • Isn’t usually subject to serious insect and disease problems. But with the increase in plantations of honey locust, there’s been a concurrent increase in insect pests.
  • Is host to a number of leaf-feeding insects, including spider mites, whitemarked tussock moths and honey locust plant bugs.
  • Webworms occasionally defoliate trees by August.
  • Canker can sometimes be a problem, but is rarely fatal.
  • Damage to young trees is caused by rabbits gnawing the bark and by browsing of livestock and white-tailed deer.


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