The honey mesquite (Prosopsis juliflora) sinks deep roots into desert soils in search of water. You won’t find them in Owens Valley – unless you come to my yard. Back in the 1970’s when I was living in Death Valley, I dug some neighborhood soil in order to plant some pots. Soon after watering, young honey mesquite seedlings began to appear. Yet in eight years living in DVNM I never saw a seedling in the wild. I assumed young plants were consumed by jack rabbits, round-tailed ground squirrels and cottontails. I reasoned mesquites propagated vegetatively.
However, being a curious naturalist, I transplanted a seedling into a container where it grew to four feet high by the time I moved to Owens Valley. In 1981 I planted it next to the south wall of our home in the Alabama Hills. Today it is a multi-trunked, twenty foot high tree that shades our yard. It creates that indoor-but-outdoor feeling you have in the mesquite bosques of the Southwest. I listen for chachalacas and look for green jays. Bewick’s wren and Say’s phoebes are more easily found so far.
Hundreds of pods form on our tree each summer. These pods are food for Timbisha people. The stumps made mortars for pounding the pods into meal for ‘ovi’ (porridge). “Don’t eat the seeds. They’ll give you the runs,” one of my students once warned me. The mother tree also provides hard wood for fire and tools. It makes shade.
Mesquite seedlings geminate in the yard. The tree must be self-pollinating since there are no others around. I found that they can be transplanted and that pods can be planted in pots to grow new trees. My mesquite bosque dream looks possible. I now have a dozen young trees going into the yard and I visualize that indoor-but-outdoor feeling. I look forward to more Wilson’s warblers and roadrunners while I wait for the chachalacas.