In my last post, I showed a Kentucky coffee tree and mentioned that it is considered an evolutionary anachronism. These anachronisms are trees whose seed dispersers are thought to have been one of the many Pleistocene mega-fauna that are now extinct - mammoths, mastodons or giant sloths, for example. They have fruit that is too large for our native animals to serve as dispersers. Another species that falls into this category is the Honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos). A native to north America, you can find lots of honey locust all around our city, it is a common street tree and park tree.
In this first photo, I wanted to give you a sense of the size of the fruit. Here is a collection of legumes (fruit of the Fabaceae) that I used for one of my Plants and People labs. The honey locust pods are the two large ones in front. You may have seen these around. Some trees produce large quantities of these fruits and you can find them on the streets and parks they inhabit. The pods are edible by horses and cattle, so in effect, they can act as substitute dispersers.
I took a walk to Grant's Tomb on Riverside Drive to look at one particular individual. This individual has a spectacular display of another character of the Honey locust - its thorns. Imagine trying to defend yourself from enormous animals like Giant sloths and such. You would need formidable armament. Honey locust has just such a weapon - thorns on its trunk.
A close-up shows just how large these thorns are!
Different individuals have different numbers of thorns on their trunks. This one, a few blocks north has fewer.
There is a thornless variety (G. triacanthos var. inerma) that is used for parks, since this can be a bit of a hazard. Being thornless is a natural variation among a small percentage of wild honey locust. It is from this sub-group that the thornless variety has been cultivated.
The bark is distinctive on older trees, breaking up into ridges with raised, often curled edges. This photo below shows a particularly nice example.
This stretch of Riverside Drive just west of Grant's Tomb has many beautiful honey locust for anyone wishing to explore.
Botany adventures are most fun when you share them with people you love. My cousins Fred and Matt and my little doggie Dior joined me for this one and we had a great time!