Few things are more noticeable about the Texas landscape than the mesquite tree. The many different species that are native to our state lend a distinctive flavor - and not just to our food. This wonderful tree has many uses and benefits.
No one knows that better than we here at Cappadona Ranch. From our Mesquite Bean Jellies to Mesquite Bean Flour, we truly love this “tree of life”.
But the mesquite is still the subject of plenty of attacks, myths, and misinformation.
Among the toughest myths that the mesquite tree has to fight against is the fear that it will lead some kind of devastating mesquite takeover. In this theory, the wide-spreading branches of the tree will continue to make life hard on ranchers, livestock, and other vegetation. Eventually engulfing the whole state.
Well, considering that the mesquite can already be found across nearly one-third of the state’s land area (close to 56 million acres) and hasn’t taken over yet...
Out of this fear, many ranchers and their allies, like the U.S. Department of Agriculture, have waged the long-running “Great Mesquite Wars”. Even with modern tools like diesel oil, bulldozers dragging heavy chains, and root plowing, the mesquite trees are still coming out on top.
Among the reasons for the scales tilting in favor of the mesquite are actions that settlers and ranchers have historically taken to aid their very own farms and lands.
For instance, while prairie fires are carefully controlled, they also remove a control on the growth of mesquite, allowing it to prosper.
Overgrazing has also contributed to the spread of mesquite. Regardless of whether it is done by cows or other animals, overgrazing diminishes the amount of native grasses and encourages the spread of mesquite into the open land.
Another interesting battle has been the poisoning of wild prairie dogs that started in the early 1900s. The “war” was won and resulted in the prairie dog population dropping from nearly 800 million to 2.2 million.
But this not only eliminated competition for grazing cattle; it removed a threat to mesquite as well.
The prairie dogs were actually a partner against the so-called “mesquite invasion” as they would eat mesquite beans, pods, and new shoots, restricting the growth of new trees.
These one-sided struggles have done little to change the truth.
The truth is that the only thing that has increased since Spanish explorers recorded finding mesquite in the early 1500s is the density of the mesquite - not the range.
The idea of mesquite covering more and more of Texas scares people largely because of another misconception about these trees. It is believed they use up a lot of water and dry up creeks, springs, and aquifers.
A little investigation dispels this notion.
To start, mesquite can grow in places like West Texas, where the annual rainfall is only 10 to 15 inches a year and drought is common. If the mesquite were a great waster of water, there would be no way that it could survive in some of the places that it grows.
Getting a little bit more scientific, the leaves of the mesquite offer more evidence that mesquite trees aren’t the guzzlers some people make them out to be.
Mesquite tree leaves have less leaf surface area than other similar trees, meaning there is less area to transpire water. While it may not seem like much, this feature is a common one in plants that conserve water well.
The leaves also develop a wax by late spring, which limits the amount of water they use even further.
Basically, anyway that you try to look at it, you can’t escape the fact that mesquite trees are very efficient when it comes to water use.
To compound everything, many people don’t know about the many things that can be done with mesquite. There is a large number of dedicated artisans who love working with the wood from the tree for reasons ranging from the sheen of finished work to the peculiarities of the grain.
The imperfections in the grain are often purposely used to create a rustic look. These same imperfections make it great for cutting planks or cross-grain blocks to use in hardwood flooring.
Mesquite is also as hard as hickory and denser than maple and oak, letting you know that anything made from it will last. You can find everything from guitars to golf accessories made out of this truly versatile tree.