Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Try New Mexico Locust in a Tough to Grow Landscape

New Mexico Locust (Robinia neomexicana)

Photo by Utah State University
I have already written a much deeper piece on it's ecology in the wild environment, but it has practical applications in the home garden or landscape where you may be in an area with challenging situations. My first encounter was in Ruidoso, New Mexico where our family went to a reunion and rented Cabins. My son Jared was about 4 years old at the time. I was actually pretty excited to find this tree as I had only seen it referenced occasionally in my monthly subscription to Arizona Highways magazine.It was a fun time because believe it or not it was 'monsoon season' for the southwest which is my favourite time of year when tropical moisture from Mexico works it's way north and creates those electrical billowing cloud thunderstorms you see across the wide open spaces. My son was excited and constantly pointing out all the Thunderstorm electrical flashes by saying to his cousin,  "Hey Rebecca, did you see that YightYing" He was only four years old and couldn't pronounce his "L"s. 
Needless to say I dug up a small inch high seedling which in actuality wasn't so much a seedling from seed as it was a tiny clone I cut out of some taller parent tree's rhizomatous root system. Yes they have a nasty habit of spreading underground and popping up with clones even 30' away from my own experience. Yet there is something kool about them. They look like they need to be kept in a lush environment, but can actually do well and be kept in check by an arid environment that is hot and dry. This was in summer of 1992 I believe and I'm thinking we drove over with my sister-in-law and her two kids. I remember because they were all including my wife bugged at me for pulling off and stopping at all these place I'd read in Marshall Timble's "Arizona Roadside History" & "Arizona Place Names". 
 Anyway, I planted this tree in among some of the bush-like small trees native to our area called Redshank or Ribbonwood (Adenostoma sparsifolium) which I had thinned out as they tend to grow in dense stands. I found the right spot and almost immediately this little 4" high tree began taking off. So much so that it grew over 6 feet in height the rest of that year. Suddenly I wondered what I had gotten myself into, especially the following year when it spread and suckered producing more tree clones of itself. But it never really did get out of hand. I did maintain several trees in the area as that was actually my intention, but the vigorousness of the thing was a bit spooky at first. It has never grown taller than I'd say 12 or 15 feet as of last checking. I don't live there anymore but my wife and I flew back over there last year from Sweden to visit and we stopped by the place. Here is what it looks like today.

Photo by Kevin Franck
In the above photo, look to the left and up. In the foreground below this is a native Sugarbush (Rhus ovata) which is another one of those interesting almost maintenance free shrubs that takes care of itself once established. 

photo by Native Rival Nursery
 Next, once again, look to the left of the photograph and you'll get a better look of the original tree I planted along with a few of it's clones in the background.

Photo by Kevin Franck
If you knew the type of dry rocky decomposed granite soil that it's in and realized it doesn't get any water other than winter rainy season and maybe perhaps some summer monsoonal moisture now and again, then you'll appreciate what such trees can be a valuable addition to any landscape with similar challenging soil conditions. They also spread along the mycorrhizal networks under the ground connecting up to different species from their own like the Jeffrey, Coulter and Aleppo pines you see in the photo. In that scene below with the square rock wall layout is where I built up on a gradual slope a flat garden area with concrete mortar and granite river rock. The actually garden soil I trucked up from below. Seriously for gardens up there on that hill you need a lot of amendment if you want vegetables.
For a further deeper read on New Mexico Locust (Robinia neomexicana) please see my "Earth's Internet & Natural Networking"

Networking With New Mexico Locust 


  1. I love the monsoon season here as well. It really makes for some spectacular performances. I love the Locust but I haven't had any success with it here in Tucson. It's quite lovely. A similiar tree for the Tucson area would be the Chitalpa or Catalpa. Slightly different but the pink blooms are great on both trees. Hope you are having a good week. Chris

    1. I always considered Tucson to be in the direct path of the Monsoon Moisture Highway heading up from Mexico to all points north. When I last visited there with my wife and the kids from Sweden, it was June and rather hot. Probably about 95 degrees and dry heat. Felt wonderful.

      When I lived up in the mountains above Palm Springs I use to sit up on my porch and watch the clouds build and eventually rain. There is a fragrance in the air with summer storms that is totally abscent with winter rains. It sort of gives a person a natural high.

      To bad about the New Mexico Locust. It's one of the toughest trees I've ever seen. Interestingly though, I mentioned in the post about a shrub called Sugarbush (Rhus ovata), now that would do perfect in Tucson. As long as it get some deep water, it can take the heat. Last year my wife and I stayed with my sister and brother-in-law's house in the town of Ocotillo on I-8 between El Centro and San Diego. We went off roading to a place called Dos Cabesas Springs. On the north mountain sides there in the rocks were numerous beautifully folliaged Sugarbush. You can actually shape them into a small tree. But at that location, I know the summer temps can be as high as 115 degrees. So it may be something to consider.

      I always loved experimenting.


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