Mezquite: characteristics, habitat, cultivation, care and uses - science - 2023



The mesquite is a shrubby plant of medium height belonging to the family Fabaceae, subfamily Mimosoideae of the genus Prosopis. It is a native tree of Mexico that grows in desert and semi-desert areas with little rain, being very resistant to droughts.

The word mesquite derives from Nahuatl mizquitl, and is the name of several mimosaceous plants of the genus Prosopis. It is a plant of great economic importance, due to the high protein content of the seeds and its adaptability to arid areas.

The plant reaches up to 12 m in height, develops a very resistant wood and displays numerous branches with particular thorns. It has compound and bipinnate leaves, flowers of greenish-yellow tones, fruits in the shape of a curved pod of yellowish color and a sweet taste.

The various species that make up mesquite have been used since ancient times by the Aztec peoples of the region. The pod-shaped fruits are a food source for many populations located in northern Mexico and the southern United States.

The bark of the tree exudes a translucent and amber exudate with properties similar to the gum arabic used as glue. On the other hand, the seeds contain a high percentage of proteins and carbohydrates, being used as an animal feed supplement.

General characteristics

Shape and stem

Mesquite is an arboreal plant or thorny shrub from 2 to 12 m high and 35-40 cm in diameter. In favorable climate, soil and humidity conditions, it presents arboreal habits; in arid conditions it exhibits bushy habits.

The structure of the tree is characterized by a meager and straight trunk with a monopodial or monopodial growth axis. The stem has a solid bark with dark markings and the tender branches have superficial cracks of green to dark brown tones.

Leaves and leaf area

The leaf area or crown is flat, irregular and widespread, with sparse foliage. Paired spines develop on the young branches, thick at the base and thin at the end, up to 5 cm long.

The alternate, bipinnate, compound leaves are grouped in a spiral around the insertion of each pair of spines. Each compound leaf reaches 11-19 cm long, with petioles 3-9 cm long and dilated at the base.

1-2 pairs of pinnae per leaf, 8-14 cm long, with 13-16 leaflets per 19-22 mm long leaves are frequent. The leaflets have entire margins and a rounded base, pale green in color; at the insertion of each leaflet there is a bulging gland.


The flowers -inflorescences- are arranged axillary in spike and compact racemes 5-10 cm long. The fragrant flowers present a small campanulate, yellowish calyx with five free petals that bloom all year round.

Fruits and seeds

The fruit is a yellowish-green dehiscent pod 8-15 cm long, flattened when young and cylindrical when ripe. Each pod contains numerous flat, rounded greenish seeds, with a honeyed taste, 6-9 mm long by 4-6 mm wide.


  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Division: Magnoliophyta
  • Class: Magnoliopsida
  • Order: Fabales
  • Family: Fabaceae
  • Subfamily: Mimosoideae
  • Tribe: Mimoseae
  • Gender: Prosopis L.
  • Species:

- Honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa)

- Trupillo (Prosopis juliflora)

- Soft (Prosopis laevigata)

- Huarango (Prosopis pallida)

- Crumpled grain (Prosopis pubescens)

- Progressive (Prosopis strombulifera)

Velvety (Prosopis velutina)

The gender Prosopis (Burkart, 1976) is made up of five sections: Monilicarpa, Strombocarpa, Algarobia, Aninychium Y Prosopis. The section Monilicarpa -a species- is located in the central-western region of Argentina.

In the section Strombocarpa -seven species- is located in South America and North America. In addition, the section Algarobia It is widely distributed in the southern US, Central America and the Caribbean, the Pacific coast of South America to Argentina.

The section Algarobia it is frequently located in semi-desert and desert areas. The sections Anonychium Y Prosopis it is located in Africa and Asia.

Habitat and distribution

The mesquite (Prosopis spp.) It is native to arid and semi-arid areas of Mexico, Central America, and North America. It adapts to regions with low average annual rainfall, from 150-250 mm to 500-1,500 mm.

It is common in regions with a hot and semi-warm climate with high temperatures, low atmospheric humidity and intense sunshine. In addition, it grows on low fertility soils, even on dunes and pebbles.

It adapts to clay-sandy, saline, eroded, stony soils, alluvial soils, with a high content of limestone, shale and gypsum. Under conditions of pH between 6.5-8.3, developing in sodium soils with a pH of 10.4.

It is found distributed in extensive semi-arid and arid areas of Central and South America up to the Peruvian highlands, including Africa and Asia. In the wild, it is found in tropical dry deciduous forests, and cultivated in arid climates to take advantage of its multiple applications.


Propagation is done through seeds, in seedbeds using two or three seeds per bag or direct sowing. For vegetative propagation rhizomes, pruning shoots or suckers, cuttings and cuttings with air layering are used.

A high percentage of germination is obtained by planting seeds in sand at a depth of 2.5 cm and continuous humidity. With this technique, strong seedlings are obtained with the recommended size for transplanting after four months.

Mesquite trees need to be planted in a place with full sun exposure. The sowing of the seedlings in the final site should be done in the cool months, avoiding areas with frequent frosts.

It is recommended to dig a wide and deep hole where the seedling previously sown with seeds, cuttings or rhizomes can easily penetrate. Rocks should be removed from the planting area, ensuring good drainage, not being necessary the application of organic fertilizers.

At the time of sowing it is advisable to avoid mistreatment of the roots of the seedling. Fill the planting hole with the same soil, water and tamp heavily, then water weekly until the tree takes root.



Because mesquite is a plant adapted to arid conditions, the application of irrigation is not recommended. Excess moisture tends to reduce the quality of the wood and limit the development of the root system.

Maintenance pruning is recommended in late fall, removing suckers and crossed branches. In order to control the development of the tree, improve air circulation and favor the incidence of solar radiation.


Mesquite is susceptible to frost and strong winds, destroying its structure in the event of storms. An effective formation pruning will prevent the mesquite tree from being altered by the wind.

The mistletoe (Viscum album) is a semi-parasitic plant that develops on the surface of the stem and branches of the tree. The main effect is the deformation of the branches, mainly in old trees, altering the quality of the wood.

The seed pods are attacked by the Acanthoscelides obtectus (common bean weevil), being eaten and rendered useless. Biological control is carried out in the field -Anisopteromalus calandrae or Lariophagus distinguendus- and cultural management, and chemical control warehouse with organophosphate contact insecticide.

When handling the tree, the ripe fruits or pods tend to detach from the branches, which is laborious for their collection. The long, sharp spines make the pruning process difficult, injuring people and animals that consume the pods.



Mesquite has traditionally been used by the indigenous peoples of the Mesoamerican region as a source of food. Each part of the plant is used as a raw material for making tools, weapons, fibers, fuel, dye, gums, medicines, among others.

Mesquite is a honey plant.


The latex or exudate from the bark, roots, leaves and flowers are used in traditional medicine thanks to its medicinal properties. The resin decoction is used to alleviate dysentery problems and alleviate eye problems.

Leaf infusions are applied topically to refresh and soothe inflammation in the eyes. The decoctions of the bark, roots and flowers are used as astringent, purgative, emetic, anthelmintic, heal wounds and relieve stomach pain.


The fruit - pods - and the young shoots are used as a nutritional supplement for livestock due to their high nutritional content. The trunks and thick branches are used as stakes for fences, the firewood is appreciated in gastronomy as fuel for roasts.

Fine, light and firm wood is in great demand for parquet flooring. The gum that mesquite exudes through the bark is used in the gum and glue industry.


Due to its high adaptation to arid and semi-arid areas, it is used in the reforestation of areas in danger of erosion. Apart from protecting the soil, it is used to obtain firewood, wood, charcoal, fodder and honey, as well as favoring the conservation of biodiversity.

However, in some regions of northern Mexico and southwestern United States it has become an invasive plant. Mainly in pasture fields for livestock, where its eradication has been difficult due to the inadequate management of the herds.


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  2. Meraz Vázquez, S., Orozco Villafuerte, J., Lechuga Corchado, J. A., Cruz Sosa, F. and Vernon Carter, J. (1988) Mesquite, a very useful tree. Science 51, July-September, 20-21.
  3. Mezquite (2019) Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Recovered at:
  4. Palacios, Ramón A. (2006) Los Mezquites Mexicanos: Biodiversity and Geographical Distribution. Bol. Soc. Argent. Bot. 41 (1-2): 99-121. ISSN 0373-580 X.
  5. Prosopis juliflora. (2016) The National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO) Prosopis juliflora (Sw.) DC. (1825). - Mimosaceae Published in: Prodromus Systematis Naturalis Regni. Vegetabilis 2: 447. 1825.
  6. Tena, F. J. F. (1993). Ecological attributes and use of mesquite. Research and Science: from the Autonomous University of Aguascalientes, (9), 24-30.