It was easy to climb a big mesquite tree. Smaller trees had branches reaching straight up. On big trees the branches took off near the base of the trunk and drooped out level with the ground. A nice place to build a tree-house, or just sit on the limbs.
What Texas boy has not spent a lazy afternoon picking apart the mesquite flowers with their intricate little blossoms? Or pondering the green mesquite beans or the brown ones, wondering at their bitter taste?
Mesquites are the abundant shrubs of our southwestern desert. Bees visit the blossoms and make honey. The beans in their long pods are food for cattle, wildlife, and humans in distress. They are also a pest, because they crowd out other plants and are replacing grasslands. Mesquites are deep-rooted, which helps them to survive droughts and makes them difficult to eradicate.
These trees probably co-evolved with the megafauna, the giant sloths and mammoths that fed on the beans. Chewing the seeds scarified them. Juices in the GI tract would kill any parasite. The Ice Age climate was a moist one while it lasted.
Then, warmer and drier climates favored grasses over shrubs. Early explorers in South Texas reported extensive grasslands, at least north of the Rio Grande meanders. Mesquites were there, along the water courses. They’ve since spread over the landscape. Overgrazing? Cattle distributing the beans? A little shift in climate? Mesquites have replaced the grasses in south Texas.
Herbicides, defoliants, giant machines have converted much of south Texas brush country into agricultural fields. I am saddened because the brushlands were part of my childhood. Those thorny thickets still haunt my dreams, along with the horned toads, fence lizards, red ants, spiders and snakes. An early education, lessons not easily learned. What do today's youth find?
I do not believe the mesquite trees have been defeated. Not yet.
February 1, 2017
“Life is composted of lights and shadows, and we would be untruthful if we tried to pretend there were no shadows.” – Walt Disney.