Growth Form: Small to medium sized tree with an irregular spreading crown, sometimes a multi trunked shrub; most parts of the tree have short velvety hairs (pubescent); branches are zigzagged with paired spines; the bark is dark brown or reddish-brown, shaggy, thick, rough.
Flower Color: Velvet Mesquite has flowers that are white, greenish yellow to pale yellow that open in dense catkin-like flowers; the fruit is a pod that is only slightly curved and slightly constricted between the seeds.
Flowering Season: April to June
Elevation: Mostly below 4,500 feet (1,372 m).
Habitat Preferences: Velvet Mesquite is primarily found in lower desert plant communities that may include Paloverde (Parkinsonia), Bursage (Ambrosia) various low lying cacti species and shrublands that include Pinyon-Juniper, Pinus and Oak species. grasslands, near desert washes and canyons, soils are sandy or rocky; when occurring along riparian areas, Velvet Mesquite forms thick, dense stands or bosques that are important wildlife sanctuaries.
Recorded Range: In the United States, Velvet Mesquite is found mostly in central and southern AZ but also in CA (central and south portions), scattered and disjunct portions of NM and northern Mexico; Velvet Mesquite is native to 3 North American deserts including the Sonoran, Mojave and Chihuahuan deserts.
North America species range map for Common name, Prosopis velutina:
Click image for full size map
U.S. Weed Information: Unknown
U.S. Wetland Indicator: In North America Prosopis velutina has the following wetland designations:
Arid West, FACU
Great Plains, FACU;
Western Mountains, Valleys, and Coast, FACU;
FACU = Facultative Upland, usually occur in non-wetlands, but may occur in wetlands
U.S. Threatened/Endangered Information: In Arizona, pursuent to Title 3, Chapter 3, A.R.S. § 3903(B)(3), Velvet Mesquite, Prosopis velutina is both "Salvage Assessed" and "Harvest Restricted". Permits are needed from the Department of Agriculture to transport this species off of private land and also to cut or remove the plants for their by-products, fibers, or wood.
U.S. Invasive/Noxious Weed Information: North America Prosopis velutina is listed as a Noxious Weed by the federal government.
International Invasive/Noxious Weed Information:1The Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International, (CABI), and 2The Invasive Species Compendium (ISC) has identified Prosopis velutina as an “Invasive Species”.
NOTE: Prosopis velutina has shown itself to be a very aggressive invader, especially in arid and semi-arid natural grasslands, both in the native range and where introduced. Prosopis velutina is a declared noxious weed in Australia and South Africa where hybrids with Prosopis glandulosa are common, hybrids also occur in other southern African countries. The genus as a whole is regulated in several other countries. In terms of ecology, uses, management and control, Prosopis glandulosa and Prosopis velutina can be effectively treated together, as a species complex.
1The Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI), Wallingford, Oxfordshire, England; The US Department of Agriculture is a lead partner with CABI.
2The Invasive Species Compendium (ISC) is an encyclopedic resource that brings together a wide range of different types of science-based information to support decision-making in invasive species management worldwide.
Genus Information: In North America, USDA Plants Database lists 40native and introduced species for Prosopis. Worldwide, World Flora Online includes 64 accepted species names for the genus.
In the Southwestern United States: Arizona, California and Texas each have 4 species of Prosopis, Nevada and Utah each have 2 species, New Mexico has 3 species. Data approximate, subject to revision.
The flowers provide an important source of nectar that attract insects particularly large numbers of bee species which also serve to pollinate the plants. Wildlife and livestock eagerly eat the leaves and sweet pods of Screw Bean Mesquite.
All species of Mesquite make excellent firewood and their wood has been used for tool handles and fence-posts. Pollen from all species are reported to be responsible for hay-fever.
Comments: Velvet Mesquite is a single or multi-trunked deciduoustree or small shrub with sharp paired, thorny spines that grow up to 2 inches (5 cm) in length. The plants are variable in growth form and height.
Velvet Mesquite is primarily found in lower desert plant communities including Paloverde (Parkinsonia), Bursage (Ambrosia), various low lying Cacti species (Opuntia and Cylindropuntia); and shrub-lands that include Pinyon-Juniper (Pinus-Juniperous) and Oak (Quercus) species.
****Special Importance to Wildlife, Birds and Livestock****
Velvet Mesquite, Prosopis velutina beans, pods and some leaf forage are extremely important food sources for both wildlife and livestock.
Researchers have documented wildlife species such as Mule and White-tail Deer, Javelina and wild Turkeys feed off of Velvet Mesquite beans and pods. Other large and small mammals and birds including quail, are also known to feed on these beans and that includes rodents, both cottontails and jackrabbits, skunks, porcupines, raccoons and coyotes.
Bird watchers have long known that the Mistletoe (Phoradendron spp.) berries found in most Mesquite trees are a delicacy of many species of birds.
Livestock including cattle horses, sheep, goats, mules, and burros also eat large quantities of Mesquite beans.
Beneficial Value to Butterflies, and Insects
Velvet Mesquite, Prosopis velutina has showy fragrant 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.
****Special Value to Honeybees****
According to The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation or other source, Velvet Mesquite, Prosopis velutina, is recognized by pollination ecologists as attracting large numbers of honeybees. Click here for more information on their Pollinator Conservation Program.
****Special Value to Native Bees****
According to The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation or other source, Velvet Mesquite, Prosopis velutina, is recognized by pollination ecologists as attracting large numbers of Native bees. Click here for more information on their Pollinator Conservation Program.
****Provides Nesting Materials/Structure for Native Bees****
According to The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation or other source, Velvet Mesquite, Prosopis velutina, is recognized by pollination ecologists as providing nesting materials/structure for native bees; A plant that native bees nest beneath, within, or harvest parts from to construct their nests. Click here for more information on 5 Ways to Increase Nesting Habitat for Native 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 Velvet Mesquite, Prosopis velutina, are found here.
The genus “Prosopis” is from the Greek name for the burdock, however the reason for this application is as of yet unknown.
The species epithet “velutina” (velu'tina) is a reference to short soft velvety hairs found on the branches, stems and leaves found on Velvet Mesquite.
According to The Land Bird Johnson Wildflower Center the word “mesquite” is a Spanish adaptation of the Aztec name “mizquitl.”
Ethnobotany - Native American Ethnobotany; University of Michigan - Dearborn
Velvet Mesquite, Prosopis velutina is used for a multitude of purposes by southwestern United States indigenous peoples.
Cocopa Food, Unspecified, Winter Use Food; Pods used for food and Pods stored for later use.
Maricopa Food, Unspecified; Beans formerly eaten as an important food.
Papago Drug, Dermatological Aids; Poultice of chewed leaves applied for red ant stings and Poultice of chewed leaves applied to red ant stings and Poultice of pulverized gum applied to sores and impetigo and Poultice of pulverized plant applied to sores and impetigo pustules.
Papago Fiber, Basketry, Building Material, Other; Used as the warp element of baskets and Posts of wood, forked at the top, used for the core of the house frame and Roots used for curved structures in wrapped weaving.
Papago Food, Candy, Dried Food, Preserves, Staples; Gumlike secretions found on branches and chewed and Gumlike secretions found on branches, dried, ground, boiled in gruel, cooled and eaten like candy and Seeds basket winnowed, parched, sun dried, cooked, stored and used for food and Gumlike secretions found on branches, dried, ground, mixed with saguaro syrup and eaten like jam.
Papago Food, Staples; Beans ground into flour and used for food and Beans pounded in mortars and used as a staple food.
Papago Food, Unspecified, Other Cooking Tools, Other Fasteners; Beans and pods pounded into a pulpy mass, boiled and used for food and Pods eaten fresh and Green sticks used to turn roasting ears of corn and 'Gum' used to fasten handles to gourds.
Papago Other Fuel, Other Protection, Other Tools; Used to heat stones for baking cholla buds and joints and Posts used to make a fence to protect tobacco plants from marauding animals and Two foot long, sword shaped slabs sharpened and used as weed hoes.
Pima Drug, Analgesic; Cold infusion of leaves taken for headaches and Decoction of gum held in mouth for painful gums or applied to painful burns.
Pima Drug, Antidiarrheal, Burn Dressing, Cathartic; Infusion of roots taken for diarrhea and Decoction of gum applied to burns to prevent soreness and Decoction of gum taken to cleanse the system and Decoction of inner bark taken as a cathartic.
Pima Drug, Dermatological Aid; Decoction of beans used as bleach for severe sunburn and Decoction of black gum used as a wash for open wounds and Decoction of gum applied to chapped and cracked fingers or sore lips and Poultice of dried gum applied to prevent infection in newborn's navel and Resin used for sores.
Pima Drug, Disinfectant, Emetic, Eye Medicine; Poultice of dried gum applied to prevent infection in newborn's navel and Decoction of inner bark taken as an emetic and Decoction of black gum used as a wash for sore eyes and Decoction of leaves applied as poultice to pink eye and Cold infusion of leaves taken for stomach troubles.
Pima Drug, Gastrointestinal Aid; Cold infusion of leaves taken for stomach troubles.
Pima Drug, Oral Aid, Other Pediatric Aid; Decoction of gum held in the mouth for painful gums or sore lips and Decoction of gum applied as a lotion for 'bad disease.' and Poultice of dried gum applied to prevent infection in newborn's navel.
Pima Dye, Black, Fiber, Building Material, Fiber, Furniture; Decoction of gum applied to grey hair and used with black clay or mud as a black hair dye and Wood used for fence posts and Roots used to make cradle frames.
Pima Food, Beverage, Bread & Cake Beans pounded, added to cold water, strained and used as a sweet drink and Beans boiled, cooled, pressed out into dumplings and eaten and Seeds ground into flour and used to make bread.
Pima Food, Candy; Gum formerly eaten raw as a sweet and White gum used to make candy.
See complete listing of ethno-botanical uses at Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn.