The USDA recognizes 35 species and varieties of mesquite in the United States, some introduced from North Africa.The most widespread is honey mesquite, a native species. It occurs from Kansas down through west Oklahoma, most of Texas, and into northern Mexico. A variety is found west as far as southern California.
Mesquite is more widespread now than in the 19th century. The introduction of European cattle to the Southwest led to overgrazing of the rangeland, which eliminated the range fires that held mesquite in check.The cattle also widely distributed undigested seed. Interestingly, its range into Oklahoma and Kansas, as well as east to Shreveport, Louisiana, is generally along the trails used for the late 19th century cattle drives out of Texas. It soon took over rangelands under these conditions, eliminating native grass stands. According to records from lands near Las Cruces, New Mexico, mesquite was found on 26% of sites studied in 1858. By 1963, it occupied 70% of those sites.
Native Americans used honey mesquite for fuel wood. They commonly used the bean-like fruit, ground into flour, for making a type of bread which was the main staple of their diet.The pods were also used to make drinks.The bean pods are a very important food source for numerous species of birds, mammals and livestock.
Under ideal conditions, honey mesquite can grow up to 40 feet tall. It can survive in extremely dry areas, but then occurs as a scrubby bush.The oldest recorded specimens ranged from 172 to 217 years old, but it more commonly lives for 30 to 40 years.
Mesquite is used chiefly for fuel wood. It is often the only fuel wood available in regions where it occurs.Tall, straight-stemmed trees, found mostly along damp drainages, are the form most used for lumber. The wood is strong, hard, straight-grained, warp-resistant, and has a very low volumetric shrinkage from green to dry (4 to 5 percent).Tall, straight trees are not common. Research indicates that the current rate of use of straight-stemmed mesquite for lumber cannot be maintained without the introduction of good silvicultural management practices. Hence, landowners in some parts of Texas are beginning to manage mesquite stands for lumber production.