While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


Ronald E. Sosebee

MESQUITE. Mesquite (Prosopis) is perhaps the most common leguminous plant occurring naturally in Texas. Four species occur; the variety P. glandulosa glandulosa is the most widespread, being found throughout the state. Mesquite ranges from a shrub to a tree and has thorns and pinnately twice-compound leaves. Its flowers are creamy white and turn yellow with maturity. The fruit is a leathery, solid, indehiscent pod several centimeters long. Mesquite is a sprouting plant with numerous dormant buds belowground that are activated when the aboveground portion is damaged or killed. The plant, native to Texas and the Southwest, originally grew only along streams and rivers and in open groves, but now it occupies about fifty million to sixty million acres of Texas rangelands, excluding the piney woods. The spread of mesquite within Texas can be attributed to such causes as the cessation of prairie fires, overgrazing, wagontrains traversing the state, trail drives, and drought.

Mesquite furnishes shade for livestock and habitat for wildlife. It provides food and cover for such species as quail, dove, raven, turkey, Gambel quail, mallard duck, white-tail and mule deer, wood rat, kangaroo rat, chipmunk, pocket mouse, ground squirrel, prairie dog, cottontail, jackrabbit, skunk, peccary, coyote, and Mexican raccoon. It has many varied uses throughout the Southwest. The mesquite-bean pod was a staple in the Indians' diet and was even considered a luxury by some groups. Pods were also ground into meal and made into bread or mixed with water to form a sweet, nutritious atole, which, when fermented, produced a weak beer. Honey made from the nectar of mesquite flowers is considered a delicacy. Indian women used mesquite bark to make diapers, skirts, and other articles of clothing. They wove baskets, ropes, and twine from mesquite fibers. Mesquite bark was also used to make a poultice for treating wounds and illnesses. The gum exuded from mesquite trunks was used as candy, as a glue for mending pottery, and as a black dye. Unfinished mesquite wood has been used for fenceposts and corrals. It can also be used as boiler fuel, wood chips, wood flakes, meal, feed, mulch, particleboard, insulation batting, and charcoal. The trees have been used as ornamentals in landscaping homes. The wood is very hard and has been successfully made into such articles of furniture as cabinets, game tables, and desks.

Though mesquite has been beneficial to many cultures, it is also a menace because of the amount of water it uses. Sparse stands do not deplete soil water drastically, but dense stands growing along streams and rivers, above shallow water tables, and in deep soil use water extravagantly. In addition to reducing the amount of water that ultimately could be available for agricultural purposes, mesquite reduces the amount of forage available for livestock. Its presence also causes an inconvenience to ranchers working livestock. In the early 1980s mesquite became a popular fuel for cooking in restaurants all over the country. In 1979 Ranchmen's Manufacturing in Dallas, the largest producer of mesquite in the world, had fewer than 1,000 customers. By 1984 the company reported between 12,000 and 15,000. The trend may have reached its peak by that year, when mesquite was already being replaced by grapevine in California restaurants.

A. W. Bailey, "Nitrogen Fixation in Honey Mesquite Seedlings," Journal of Range Management 29 (1976). R. A. Langford, "Uses of Mesquite," in Literature on the Mesquite of North America, ed. J. L. Schuster (Texas Tech University, 1969). New York Times, November 10, 1984. Harry W. Parker, ed., Mesquite Utilization (Lubbock: Texas Tech Press, 1982). G. W. Thomas and R. E. Sosebee, "Water Relations of Honey Mesquite," in Proceedings of the First International Rangeland Congress, ed. D. N. Hyder (Denver: Society for Range Management, 1978).

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Ronald E. Sosebee, "MESQUITE," accessed July 10, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/tpm01.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...