City Cast

The Durable, Versatile Mesquite Tree

Scott Dickensheets
Scott Dickensheets
Posted on September 26
Photo of mesquite pods.

Mesquite seeds can wait in the soil for years waiting for enough water to grow. (Tahreer Photography/Getty)

Ubiquitous in the local desert thanks to its drought tolerance, the mesquite has long been a versatile, useful plant in the Southwest. The bark could be used to weave baskets. Its pods can be turned into flour, and the tree was a key source of protein for desert-faring Indigenous peoples. Its flowers can be boiled into tea, while its sap has been put to a variety of medicinal uses, whether applied directly to a wound or turned into a gargle for sore throats.

And, of course, the wood is *chef’s kiss* for grilling meat.

They’re hardy survivors, mesquite trees, with roots that can reach 100 feet or more into the earth in search of moisture. It’s said that during especially dry periods, the seeds can sit dormant for decades waiting for sufficient water.

Thanks to the mesquite’s versatility and climate adaptability, there are those who think that the tree could serve as the foundation of a sustainable food system and economic program that might help alleviate poverty in drying Southwestern areas. In terms of food provided for water used, ecologist Gary Nabhan says, “I don’t know any desert crop that beats mesquite in terms of productivity.”

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