“A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.” Elton Trueblood.
“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” Warren Buffett.
“The trees are God’s great alphabet: with them He writes in shining green across the world His thoughts serene.” Leonora Speyer.
August is almost here as enjoy a slight cooling wave but the heat and humidity will soon return. The great outdoors continue to offer invitations of involvement, participation and pleasure to all mankind for the taking. As participation increases in landscape development, take a closer look at another tree choice that can prove beneficial in residential and commercial settings.
The thornless common honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos form inermis) has caught the attention of arborists, community foresters and homeowners across urban and rural America. It is easy to plant, grows fast with fairly strong branches, is aesthetically-pleasing and is durable enough to cope with most urban settings.
In natural settings, it grows in both the thorned (with thorns up to 12 inches long) and the thornless forms. Throughout much of the south, it is still referred to as the Confederate pintree since its thorns were once used to pin uniforms together during the Civil War.
In general, the thornless honeylocust grows to a height of 30–70’ and a spread of 30–70’ at maturity. It’s fast rate of growth may produce more than 24 inches per year in height. It tolerates a wide range of soils including acidic, alkaline, moist, dry and salty conditions with a modest tolerance for both flooding and drought. The thornless honeylocust shows off its distinctively yellow leaves in the fall while attracting the attention of many eyes, both amateur and professional alike.
Other characteristics include pinnately or bi-pinnately compound leaves approximately 8” long with 8–14 leaflets which are the last leaves to emerge in the spring, small greenish-yellow blossoms which are particularly fragrant, large brown seed pods resembling twisted leather straps measuring 7–18” long, and an oval or round canopy shape.
The thornless honeylocust seed pods and seeds can be consumed by livestock and wildlife including rabbits, deer, and squirrels; and the flowers can provide a good source of food for bees. It is a native tree from Pennsylvania to Nebraska and south to Texas and Mississippi.
It gets the name “honey” from the sweet, honey-like substance found in its pods. And “locust” from the grasshopper-like insect that its seed pods resemble. The Cherokee Indians made bows from its durable and strong wood. Also, fence posts and railroad ties were made from this tree because of its durability and strength.
The thornless common honeylocust can function as specimen plants, street trees, or shade trees and is suitable for high traffic areas in the landscape. Because their canopy is relatively loose and airy, these trees don’t make effective shade trees if heavy shade is your objective. However, this same canopy characteristic makes them effective lawn trees and another choice in finding curb appeal.
An undesirable characterictic of Gleditsia (thorny or thornless) is the mess created when the seed pods drop in fall. The development of podless types was a major breakthrough and elevated thornless honey locusts to an elite status as a non-messy tree, ideal for low maintenance landscaping.
Some problems for honeylocusts include insects such as webworm and borers, and diseases such as leaf spot and canker disease. However, honeylocusts are mostly deer-tolerant trees.
Cultivars include Moraine which is a seedless male cultivar with a graceful outline and small dark green foliage that turns golden yellow in the fall and better resistance to webworm. Also, Skyline (Arrowhead) which is a fruitless male cultivar with a pyramidal shape with ascending branches and bright golden yellow foliage in the fall.
And, Suncole (Sunburst) is a deciduous, irregular, fast-growing shade tree with fern-like golden compound leaves and white flowers in spring. Its new foliage is yellow in the spring then transitions to a greenish-yellow and to light green in the summer. In the fall, the leaves return to the yellow color that defined them in spring. It offers good foliage color for two different seasons of the year. Suncole attains a mature height and spread of about 30-40 feet. Its late leafing out in the spring creates a foliar display that is magnificent. Suncole is podless and non-messy.
Shademaster is a deciduous, irregular, non-messy, fast-growing shade tree whose color evolution conforms more to the norm, beginning in spring with green and ending in the fall with a golden-yellow foliage. Other cultivars include Beatrice, Christie (vigorous growth and a symmetrical, full crown), Continental, Emerald Kascade (thornless weeping form with dark emerald-green foliage), Fairview, Green Arbor, Halka, Hartselle, Impcole or Imperial (small, rounded form with spreading branches and the most compact of the popular cultivars), Lake’s No. 1, Majestic, Mandan, Millwood, Orr, Park, Paul Bunyan, Penn, Royal Green, Stephens, Ward, among others.
Think in terms of native and sustainable plants in the landscape. May this bit of awareness spark your desire to learn and ask questions, encourage you to further apply your gained knowledge, and bring you to further realize that environmental stewardship and sustainability should be at the foundation of all your home landscape activities.
Keep your hanging baskets and potted plants refreshed with water and food. Remember to feed and water the songbirds, and to provide your pets the care they need (protect them from this extreme summer heat and humidity). Also, be on lookout for children playing and bicyclists riding along the streets and roadways throughout our communities. And remember to safely share the road with motorcycles. Drive alert and arrive alive. Don’t drive distracted or impaired, and don’t text while driving. Buckle up (click-it or ticket). Let’s keep everyone safe and secure! Help those in need and the homeless every chance you get. And, as you receive good deeds, always pay them forward. Pay for a stranger’s meal the next time you are eating out! Welcome August with a smile!
“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” Isaiah 40:29. “Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.” 1 Timothy 4:14. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1.
Eddie Seagle is a Sustainability Associate, Golf Environment Organization (Scotland), Agronomist and Horticulturalist, CSI: Seagle (Consulting Services International), Professor Emeritus and Honorary Alumnus (Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College), Distinguished Professor for Teaching and Learning (University System of Georgia) and Short Term Missionary (Heritage Church, Moultrie). Direct inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.