Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

Home to the plants of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Mojave Deserts

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Vachellia constricta, (=Acacia constricta), Whitethorn Acacia

Scientific Name: Vachellia constricta (=Acacia constricta)

Common Name: Whitethorn Acacia

Also Called: All-thorn Acacia Mescat, Mescat Acacia, Mescat False Acacia, Mescat Wattle, Twinthorn Acacia, White Thorn Acacia, White-thorn Acacia; (Spanish: Huisache, Vinorama, Chaparro Prieto, Vara Prieta, Gigantillo, Largoncillo, Gidag)

Family: Fabaceae or Leguminosae Family

Synonyms: (Acacia constricta)

Status: Native

Duration: Perennial

Size: Up to 12 feet (3.7 m) or more (20 feet (6 m)).

Growth Form: Tree or large shrub; .12 to .24 inch (3 to 6 mm) long paired slender white spines as shown above.

Leaves: Green, deciduous, alternate, pinnately compound; 3 to 6 paired leaflets per leaf.

Flower Color: Yellow or orange-yellow; dense globose heads; fruit a long straight pod or beans (legume), fruit pod woody or papery, compressed between seeds.

Flowering Season: April, May or later with second bloom, June, July and August.

Elevation: 2,500 to 5,000 feet (762-1,524 m).

Habitat Preferences: Dry slopes, washes, flat desert areas and mesas, arroyos and washes, sandy and sandy loam soils; often in shallow caliche- and limestone-soils; mid- to high-elevations.

Recorded Range: Whitethorn Acacia is has a disjunct geographical distribution. It is native to the southwest border states of AZ, NM and TX. It also is native to Baja California and central and northern Mexico south to Oaxaca. It is most predominant in Arizona with smaller populations in NM and TX.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Vachellia constricta.

North America species range map for Whitethorn Acacia, Vachellia constricta:

Whitethorn Acacia, Vachellia constricta: Click image for full size map.
Click image for full size map.

U.S. Weed Information: Unknown
Invasive/Noxious Weed Information: Unknown
Wetland Indicator: Unknown
Threatened/Endangered Information: Unknown

Genus Information: In North America there are 34 species for Vachellia. Worldwide, The Plant List includes 32 accepted species names and a further 37 scientific names of infraspecific rank for Vachellia

The genus Vachellia was published in 1834 by Robert Wight, (1796-1872) and George Arnott Walker (1799-1868).

In the Southwestern United States: Arizona has 3 species of Vachellia, California has 1 species, Nevada has 0 species, New Mexico has 4 species, Texas has 6 species, Utah has 0 species. Data approximate, subject to revision.

Comments: Whitethorn Acacia is an attractive shrub or small tree with fragrant showy orange-yellow flowers in textured globose balls. Whitethorn Acacia is cultivated and used in desert landscaping. Because of its large sharp spines it is often used as a protective barrier hedge.

This plant is well adapted to the arid conditions of desert life and will not produce leaves or flowers in times of severe drought.

Whitethorn Acacia readily sprouts following fire and sprouting can occur as early as 1 month after fire.

In Southwest Desert Flora also see similar species; Sweet Acacia, Vachellia farnesiana and Catclaw Acacia, Acacia greggii.

Importance to Wildlife, Birds and Livestock
Vachellia constricta, Whitethorn Acacia, provides Desert Mule Deer a small part of their diet in summer, fall and winter. Livestock will consume the fruit pods but do not appear to relish the foliage. This species is long-lived; 70 or more years.

Several small mammals, including Pack Rats, Kangaroo Rats and species of Pocket Mouse, feed on the seeds, some of these birds utilize this species more than others; rabbits most likely browse on this species in the absence of more preferable food.

Whitethorn Acacia seeds make of a significant amount of food consumed by many species of grainivorous song- and game-birds including Scaled Quail, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, flycatchers, verdins and other desert bird species.

Beneficial Value to Butterflies, Honey Bees and Insects
Vachellia constricta, Whitethorn Acacia, has attractive yellow, sweet flowers, the flowers and their plants may be visited or used by butterflies, moths, flies, honeybees, native bees and other insects in search of nectar, food or shelter and protection. Nectar-insects, Nectar-butterflies, Nectar-bees,

U.S. Forest Service; Fire Effects Information System (FEIS)
See the U.S. Forest Service online collection of reviews of the scientific literature for management considerations of Vachellia constricta, Whitethorn Acacia are found here.

The genus “Vachellia” (Vachel'lia:) is named after the Rev. George Harvey Vachell (1798-1839); born in Littleport, Cambridgeshire, and graduated from Cambridge University in 1821.

The genus Vachellia was published in 1834 by Robert Wight, (1796-1872) and George Arnott Walker (1799-1868).

The species epithet constricta (constric'tas:) means constricted, drawn together or contracted.


Profile posted 07/22/2015, updated 02/23/2021
References and additional information:
Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, Arizona Flora, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles, California.
U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database and USGS ITIS search; accessed 02/19/2021.
The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet;; accessed 02/23/2021.
Wikipedia contributors, 'Vachellia constricta', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 9 May 2020, 21:40 UTC, [accessed 19 February 2021]
Raymond M. Turner, Janice E. Bowers, and Tony L. Burgess, Sonoran Desert Plants: an Ecological Atlas (Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1995) pp. 15–16
Native Plant Information Network, NPIN. Published on the Internet; accessed 02/22/2021. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas, Austin, TX.
Gucker, Corey L. 2004. Vachellia constricta. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer).
Available: [2021, February 23].
University of Arizona; Campus Arboretum; Vachellia constricta; accessed 02/19/2021
Aggie-Horticulture, Ornamental Plants Whitethorn Acacia, Largancillo, Mescat Acacia, Allthorn Acacia, Huisache, Gigantillo, Vara Prieta, Chaparro Prieto; (accessed: 02/19/2021)
Michael J. Plagens; Arizonensis; Field Guide; Sonoran Desert Flora;Fabaceae-Mimosoideae - White-thorn Acacia - Acacia constricta; accessed 02/23/2021.
T. Beth Kinsey, Southeastern Arizona Wildflowers and Plants; Acacia constricta – Whitethorn Acacia - accessed 02/19/2021.
SEINet synonyms, scientific names, geographic locations, general information.
Etymology:Michael L. Charters California Plant Names: Latin and Greek Meanings and Derivations; A Dictionary of Botanical and Biographical Etymology - (accessed 02/23/2021)
IPNI (2020). International Plant Names Index. Published on the Internet, The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Harvard University Herbaria & Libraries and Australian National Botanic Gardens. [Retrieved 23 February 2021].