Honey Locust Tree: Thornless vs Thorny (& Why They Outrank Black Locust)

The Honey Locust tree is a remarkable species that offers both beauty and practical benefits for homeowners. In this article, we will explore the identification of the Honey Locust tree, its uses, and the differences between thornless and thorny varieties. We will also discuss why the Honey Locust tree is preferred over the Black Locust tree.

Honey Locust Tree Identification

Spotting a Honey Locust tree is easy once you know its key features. Here are some characteristics that define the Honey Locust tree:

Growth Habits

A fully grown Honey Locust tree can reach an impressive height of 80 feet and a diameter of 30 inches. In optimal conditions, it can even grow up to 150 feet tall and double the standard diameter. The crown or canopy of the tree extends wide, providing ample shade, while the roots can stretch up to 20 feet deep.

Honey Locust tree identification chart

Honey Locust Leaves

The leaves of the Honey Locust tree are deciduous and grow in a compound form with 3-6 leaflets on each side. Each leaflet measures 4-8 inches and has an oval shape. The leaves take on a dark green shade and have a shiny top surface.

Honey Locust Tree Bark

The bark of the Honey Locust tree is one of its most distinctive features. It ranges in color from dark to light or grayish-brownish. On the trunk and low branches, you will find reddish thorns that can grow up to 7.8 inches long. However, thorns are more prevalent in non-native regions.

Honey Locust Flowers Identification

The Honey Locust tree blooms between May and June, producing fragrant greenish-yellow flowers. The flowers grow in clumps that are 2-5 inches long. In some cases, the flowers may have both male and female organs.

Honey Locust Fruits

The fruits of the Honey Locust tree are dark reddish-brown and resemble stripes or small belts. When mature, they can measure 6-16 inches long and 1-1.4 inches wide. As the fruits grow, they take on a twisted shape and contain several bean-shaped seeds.

Growth Range for Honey Locust Trees

The Honey Locust tree is commonly found in the Eastern and Northern United States. It can withstand extremely cold temperatures of up to -30 degrees and thrives in a variety of environments, including high heat levels, moist soils, and drought-prone regions.

Can You Grow Honey Locust Seeds?

Yes, you can grow a Honey Locust tree from seeds or propagate it from shoot and root cuttings. To grow from seeds, soak them in water until they swell up to thrice their original size. Plant the swollen seeds in spring for the best results.

Are Honey Locust Tree Seed Pods Edible?

One of the best features of the Honey Locust tree is its edible seed pods. When unripe, the pods have a sweet taste and a sticky feel. When hard and ripe, they can be ground into flour. Livestock also enjoys these pods, and they can be added to their diet as a sweetener.

What Is the Honey Locust Tree Used For?

The Honey Locust tree has numerous uses, making it highly valued. Some of its applications include:

  • The timber from the Honey Locust tree has been used by the Cherokee people to create bows.
  • The seeds were crushed by Native Americans for use as sweeteners.
  • The sweet and nutritious pods of the tree are a favorite food for livestock.
  • Its dense and shock-resistant wood is used for making fences, pallets, and other creations.
  • The wood also makes excellent fuel, as it easily splits.
  • The quality finish of the wood makes it ideal for furniture making.
  • Wildlife, such as rabbits and deer, eat the seeds, while bees are attracted to the flowers.
  • Extracts from the tree are used in medicinal treatments for ailments like cancer and arthritis.
  • The Honey Locust tree has ornamental uses and is popular for its massive shade coverage, making it a common sight in sidewalks and parks.
  • Farmers plant the tree as windbreakers and to control soil erosion.
  • The thornless and seedless species of the Honey Locust tree are top choices for landscaping.

Features of the Thornless Honey Locust Tree: Thornless vs Thorny Honey Locust Trees

The horticultural industry has successfully developed the Thornless Honey Locust tree, which is marketed as the preferred option for landscaping. This variety is often sought after by homeowners due to its lack of thorns and seeds. It is a safe choice for yards, as it does not pose a danger to children or pets. The branches and bark of the Thornless Honey Locust tree are smooth. Like its parent breed, the thornless variety is fast-growing and can reach heights of over 80 feet, providing ample shade and creating an ideal backyard environment. Planting thornless cultivars eliminates the need to deal with long, sharp thorns and constant seed cleanup. However, it is important to note that thornless and thorny varieties share certain features. Both are hardy, resilient, and possess unique qualities due to their close genetics.

Black Locust vs Honey Locust Thorns: Differences and Ranking

The Black Locust and Honey Locust Thorn trees share similar names and physical features, making it easy to confuse them. However, there are distinct differences between the two, and the Honey Locust tree ranks higher as a landscaping tree.

Similarities Between the Black and Honey Locust Trees

Both the Black Locust and Honey Locust trees belong to the Fabaceae family. They are native to the Northern parts of the United States and bloom around the same time, between mid and late spring. Additionally, they can grow into trees or shrubs and thrive in hardiness zones 3 to 8 under full sun. Their sharp thorns make them resistant to deer, and they can be grown near Black Walnut trees.

Differences Between the Black and Honey Locust Trees

Despite their similarities, there are notable differences between the Black and Honey Locust trees:

  • The scientific name of the Black Locust tree is Robinia Pseudoacacia, while the Honey Locust tree is known as Gleditsia triacanthos.
  • The Honey Locust tree grows taller and thicker than the Black Locust tree, reaching over 80 feet in height compared to the latter’s 50 feet.
  • The Black Locust tree is more adaptable to various soil types, including salty, clay, or extremely dry soil, while the Honey Locust tree prefers rich and moist grounds.
  • The Black Locust tree is considered an invasive species due to its fast growth and rapid reproduction tendencies.

The Honey Locust tree is preferred over the Black Locust tree for landscaping purposes due to its larger size and wider canopy cover, making it ideal for shade. Additionally, the Honey Locust tree is not invasive, which eliminates the hassle of dealing with unwanted trees. The fast growth rate of the Honey Locust tree makes it popular in urban settings, where shading trees are in high demand. The narrow varieties, such as the Northern Sentinels, are particularly suitable as street trees. The Honey Locust tree can also grow in various soil types, including alkaline, dry, and compacted soil, as long as it receives adequate nutrients. It is resistant to pests like spongy moths and spider mites. Thornless cultivars are available for those who prefer a tree without thorns.

How To Grow a Honey Locust Tree

If you are looking for an easy-to-plant, hardy, and low-maintenance shade tree, the Honey Locust tree is an excellent choice. It is particularly popular in urban setups due to its shade coverage, and the small leaves do not require frequent raking. Here are some common questions beginners have about growing a Honey Locust tree:

How Long Does It Take To Grow a Honey Locust Tree?

The Honey Locust tree is known for its fast growth from seedling to maturity. It can grow at a rate of 2 feet or more per year and reach a height of over 80 feet. The tree typically takes 10-15 years to reach maturity.

When Is the Best Time To Plant a Honey Locust Tree for a Good Yield?

The best time to plant a Honey Locust tree is between spring and early fall when the tree can establish itself before the onset of winter.

What Are the Growing Zones for a Honey Locust Tree?

The Honey Locust tree thrives in USDA hardiness zones 3-9. If you live in these regions and your soil is well-draining, you can successfully plant a Honey Locust tree. The tree is highly adaptable and can tolerate harsh weather conditions, including drought, heat, and air pollution.

What Are the Best Companion Plants for Growing a Honey Locust Tree?

The Honey Locust tree has nitrogen-fixing abilities, making it an excellent companion plant. It is particularly beneficial for trees and vegetables that require high amounts of nitrogen. Shade-tolerant species like hostas, Lenten Rose, and brunnera can also thrive under the canopy of the Honey Locust tree. Other suitable companion plants include sage, lilies, ferns, and merry bells.

How Do You Grow a Honey Locust Tree from a Seed?

To grow a Honey Locust tree from a seed, soak the seeds in hot water for a day until they swell up. Then, plant the swollen seeds about half an inch deep in soil and expect germination in less than four weeks. The tree will experience significant growth in the first few years, with the growth rate increasing over time. Transplant the tree outdoors once it reaches a height of at least 2 feet.

How Do You Grow a Honey Locust Tree from a Cutting?

In addition to seeds, you can grow a Honey Locust tree from root and shoot cuttings. Carefully dig around the root and cut a half-inch-thick portion, or use pruning shears to remove suckers from the tree. Plant the cuttings, water them regularly, and monitor for new growth.

How Do You Grow a Honey Locust Tree from a Seedling?

Growing a Honey Locust tree from a seedling is another convenient option. Purchase a seedling from a trusted local shop and plant it in your yard, providing proper care until it becomes independent.

How Much Water Do Honey Locust Plants Need?

While the Honey Locust tree is resilient and can withstand dry or moist soil conditions, saplings require ample watering to establish deep roots. Water them weekly during the first year and gradually reduce the amount as the tree grows. Avoid overwatering, as the tree has adapted to drought conditions.

How Far Apart Should Honey Locust Trees Be Planted?

To ensure adequate spacing and prevent overcrowding, it is recommended to plant Honey Locust trees 20-30 feet apart.

How Much Sunlight Does a Honey Locust Tree Need Each Day?

The Honey Locust tree thrives in full sun and requires at least 6 hours of sunlight daily. While the tree can tolerate partial shade, it is ideal to provide at least 2 hours of direct sunlight each day.

Planting Tips for Honey Locust Tree

Here are some tips to consider when planting a Honey Locust tree:

  1. Provide the tree with at least 6 hours of sunlight daily, especially during its early growth stages.
  2. The Honey Locust tree does not require excessive watering; weekly irrigation is sufficient.
  3. The tree thrives in hardiness zones 3-9 and may struggle or die in regions with lower temperatures.
  4. After planting, consider adding a slow-release fertilizer to the soil to encourage growth.
  5. Regular pruning is beneficial for the tree’s growth, but exercise caution when dealing with thorny varieties.
  6. In addition to growing from seeds, propagation from root and shoot cuttings is a fast and convenient method.
  7. If you prefer a thornless variety for landscaping, specify your choice when purchasing a seedling.

How Do Honey Locust Tree Thorns Look?

Before planting a Honey Locust tree in your yard, it is important to know what the thorns look like. While the Honey Locust tree’s thorns are not poisonous, they can cause injury due to their prickly nature. Thornless varieties are recommended for those who want to avoid dealing with thorns.

Are Black Locust Tree Thorns Poisonous?

Unlike the Honey Locust tree, the Black Locust tree’s thorns, leaves, seeds, and bark contain poisonous compounds to humans and animals. These toxins can cause severe pain when ingested and may even be fatal. The thorns of the Black Locust tree can reach nearly 2 inches in length.

Problems of the Honey Locust Tree

Like any other tree, the Honey Locust tree is susceptible to pests and diseases. Some common pests of the Honey Locust tree include borers, blister beetles, eriophyid mites, leaf-hoppers, and pod-gall midges. It is important to monitor the tree for discoloration and damage to leaves, such as brown or yellow patches, twisting, or leaf drop. While insecticides can be used to combat pests, natural pest control methods are safer for the environment. Introducing predatory insects or creating homemade insecticides using neem oil, dish soap, and vegetable oil can help control pests. The tree is also vulnerable to diseases such as verticillium wilt and canker disease. Proper planting practices, adequate spacing, and avoiding overwatering can help prevent these diseases. If a fungal infection is detected, it may be necessary to remove the affected parts or even cut down the tree to prevent further spread.

In conclusion, the Honey Locust tree is a magnificent species known for its fast growth and unique features. It is commonly confused with the Black Locust tree, but they have distinct differences. The Honey Locust tree ranks higher as a landscaping tree due to its larger size, wider canopy cover, and non-toxic nature. It is a versatile and resilient tree that can thrive in various soil types and withstand harsh conditions. Whether you are looking for shade, timber, or medicinal benefits, the Honey Locust tree is an excellent choice.