This shrub urges passersby to "wait a minute" by sinking its cat-claw spines into clothing or flesh. Even the leaves and pods are prickly with tiny, curved spines. Because the stem spines are curved and paired (two at every node), wait-a-minute bush is easy to distinguish from catclaw (which has one curved spine per node) and white thorn (which has paired, straight spines).
The individual flowers are not much longer than an eyelash, but when massed in fragrant, cream-colored balls, they make a showy display that attracts bees, wasps, beeflies, and butterflies. Only a few flowers in each inflorescence produce fruits; the rest eventually fall unfertilized. Since they help attract pollinators and dispense pollen, however, they are not wasted.
Wait-a-minute leaves are divided into tiny leaflets, as many as three hundred per leaf. New leaves appear rather late in the spring and are retained all summer. They turn brown with the first frosts and drop soon afterward. Flowers are borne between May and August. Even without flowers and leaves, the five-foot-tall shrubs are readily recognized by their paired, catclaw spines and tendency to grow in impenetrable thickets. Wait-a-minute thrives on hillslopes and in washes from Arizona to Texas.
Honey mesqu le
Until recent times, the native peoples of the Southwest hardly could have survived without the mesquite. Most tribes have used every part of the plant, from the sugar-rich pods to the fibrous roots.
The ripening of the seed pods just before the summer rains turned the harshest season into a time of plenty. Some tribes have different names for the pods at various stages of ripening. Traditionally, the pods have been gathered when dry, then toasted. The toasted pods have been pounded, seeds and all, into a fine-textured flour. After winnowing to remove the seeds, a second grinding reduces the seeds to powder. Both kinds of flour have been baked into rolls and cakes.
The hard, water-resistant wood not only has provided fuel and building materials, it also has been fashioned into many useful objects —bowls, balls, planting sticks, awls, war clubs, trays, pestles, cradles and more. The roots, after being separated into fibers, have been twisted into cordage. The leaves, steeped as a tea, have been used for treating sore eyes and stomach disorders. Even the black pitch that oozes out of the trunks has been used as medicinal tea, hair dye, and pottery paint.
Modern-day Southwesterners have a love-hate relationship with the mesquite. City dwellers love the flavor that mesquite charcoal gives their steaks and chops, while ranchers seek to eradicate the trees from formerlv grassy rangelands. Honey mesquite can be found from western Texas and Oklahoma to southern California, and south into Mexico. It ranges in size from spreading, five-foot-tall shrubs to graceful, thirty-foot-tall trees. The creamy or yellowish flowers, borne in dense, cylindrical spikes, appear in late spring.
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