For our anniversary, I surprised my husband with ten Black Locust trees. While they really don’t provide food, they provide a host of other wonderful benefits.
Description: Black locust is a tree which is native Southeastern United States. The tree is very easy to grow, so easy that some consider it invasive. However, it is very easy to control its spread. These trees are part of the legume family (Latin: Fabaceae). One of the neat properties of legumes is their nitrogen fixing super powers. They have host bacteria in their root nodules which magically, seemingly at least, convert the Nitrogen in the air to a form a Nitrogen that is usable to the plants. Soybean, peas, and lentils are a few more examples of these magic Nitrogen-fixing plants.
In perfect conditions, this tree can grow up to 80 feet tall and has a spread of about 25 to 30 feet. They are not long-lived for a tree and most die before their 100th birthday.
In early summer, they produce lovely white flowers upon which bees and hummingbirds feast. Black pods contain seeds that are enjoyed by squirrels, morning doves, wild turkeys, and rabbits.
Why plant? As I mentioned above, they are nitrogen fixers, so they will help improve your soil. Like all trees, it helps prevent erosion. And it is a biomass accumulator which means it grows quickly, and adds a lot of organic matter to your soil in a short time, essentially healing the land. Black locusts also tolerate juglone (the chemical from the Black Walnut tree which can make other plants very unhappy) happily, So they are a good addition to your Black Walnut stand. And even though you can’t eat the tree, it has many other uses:
Firewood: Black Locust is a very hard and dense tree. This is ideal firewood.
Fence Posts/ raised garden beds: Some farmers will use black locust trees as fence posts. They directly affix the fence to the tree. Others will harvest the trees to use as posts or for sides of their raised garden beds. The rot resistance properties of Black Locusts ensure a long life for the structures that are constantly exposes to wet dirt. The trees, themselves, contain anti-fungal chemicals. Please note, if you want to nail anything to black locust lumber, it is important to do so before it dries completely. Once it dries, it will be very difficult to get any hardware in or out of the lumber.
Tools: Some people like to hand craft the lumber for tool handles or other handmade things.
Black locusts are easy to propagate (so I’ve read). You can use their seeds or the suckers they send up. You can also “Pollard” them, which makes for responsible harvesting. Pollarding is when you cut the tree down, and the tree’s root stock sends up new shoots in it’s place. So your root stock keeps on coming back.
Here is a wonderful video that Paul Wheaton over at Permies.com put together:
Be Aware: As I mentioned above, these trees are considered invasive, so be aware of the suckers sent up from the roots. They also have thorns (but are easily avoided and really cause no pain with a little awareness) and are deadly to horses.
We are planning on continuing to plant, propagate and use our locust trees for years to come.