Trees with Pods
Nature Bulletin No. 306-A May 11, 1968
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Richard B. Ogilvie, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
TREES WITH PODS
One of the spectacular sights in early May is a Redbud blushing
amongst the understory of a wooded hillside. Examined closely, those
little flowers which occur in bundles along the leafless twigs and clothe
the tree with a mass of purplish-pink are found to be like the blossoms
of a pea or bean. Later, they produce thin flat pods containing small
brown seeds. This is one of several native American trees that belong to
the Pea Family. Also called the Judas Tree, it is usually small and,
unlike most of its relatives, has broad heart-shaped simple leaves -- not
compound. It is the state tree of Oklahoma.
The most valuable member of this group is the Black Locust. It spreads
rapidly from its own seeds and its root system harbors colonies of
bacteria that enrich the soil with nitrogen, like clover, alfalfa and other
legumes. Although the tree is subject to serious damage by a boring
beetle, it is planted extensively for erosion control, shelterbelts and
commercial use. Its natural range was greatly extended by the Indians
who used the wood for bows, ate the pods when green and tender, and
cooked the ripe kidney-shaped seeds as they did beans. The wood is
very heavy, hard, strong, durable and in demand for fence posts, mine
timbers, ties, and insulator pins on telephone poles. The branches and
twigs have short sharp spines and the compound leaves have from 7 to
19 leaflets on a petiole about a foot long. The drooping clusters of
fragrant white flowers, very attractive to bees, are followed by brown
flat pods about 3 inches long. Many of these remain on the tree until
spring. In the southern Appalachians there is a species with gummy
twigs and rosy flowers, called the Clammy Locust.
The Honey Locust becomes a larger, more graceful tree. The trunk and
limbs usually bristle with sharp many-branched thorns which may be a
foot or more in length. As boys, we used them for many purposes --
including pins to hold up our "britches". We ate the sweetish pulp
inside the green pods. The ripe pods are mahogany brown, twisted like
an old strap, twelve or more inches long, and clatter in the winds as they
hang on the tree all winter. The compound leaves are sometimes double
compound. The hard heavy durable wood is used for the same purpose
as black locust. A southern relative, found in flood plains and
swamplands, is called Water Locust.
Although uncommon as a wild tree, the Kentucky Coffee Tree --
sometimes very large -- is occasionally found at sites of pioneer homes
or in small groups which may have been planted by Indians. It has stout
crooked branches and twigs, very scaly bark on the trunks of old trees,
and huge twice-compound leaves which maybe 3 feet long. Their
branched frameworks of midribs create a weird spiderweb pattern after
the leaflets drop off in early autumn. The pods, from 5 to 10 inches
long, are dark-red, wide, thick and leathery. The round hard-shelled
seeds make a very bitter substitute for coffee.
Yellowwood is a small pod-bearing tree of the middle South, rarely
found wild but often planted as an ornamental. It has smooth gray bark,
drooping clusters of fragrant white flowers, and bright yellow
heartwood from which the pioneers made a dye. The Wild Tamarind of
Florida and most of the desert trees in our arid Southwest belong to this
family. One of them, the Honey Mesquite, is the state tree of Arizona.
Its pods and beans, like those of the Mediterranean carob tree -- the
'"husks" of which the Prodigal Son did eat -- are sweet and nutritious.
"1 will arise" said he, 'land go to my fodder".
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Update: June 2012