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Tree Identification: Honey Locust Tree

Do you see the pods hanging from the tree below? Since it is challenging to identify a tree in the winter without leaves, let's use these pods to help us.

honey locust seed pods

There are at least 3 tree species at Chrisholm Historic Farmstead that have hanging pods:

1. Black Locust Tree
2. Honey Locust Tree
3. Kentucky Coffee Tree

We can eliminate 2 of the species by the shape of their pods and location of thorns. The Kentucky Coffee Tree has short, fat pods and doesn't have thorns on the trunk or branches. The Black Locust has short, thin pods. As a young tree, it may have small thorns on trunk. Mature trees tend to lose the trunk thorns but do have a pair of short thorns at the base of each leaf stalk.

Therefore, by elimination we can make an educated guess that our mystery seed pod comes from a Honey Locust Tree. Why do we want to know this information? It is very important to know what plants, bushes and trees are on the farm for the safety of the animals. The Black Locust bark and leaves are toxic to both humans and livestock (especially horses) when ingested. However, the native wildlife such as birds, rabbits and deer can eat the seeds safely. The good news is the Honey Locust tree has highly palatable seed pods for farm animals. The pygmy goats like to eat them as a special treat.

Goats eating honey locust pods


Honey Locust Tree thorns

Notice the very large thorns all over the trunk? This adaptation protects the tree from predators eating its delicious pods before they are mature. Honey Locust pods don't open on their own - they must rely on wildlife to do it after they are ripened and have fallen to the ground. The seeds must pass through the deer, squirrels and birds' digestive tracts before they can germinate.

Try to find other trees in the parks that have hanging pods or seeds during the winter.