The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Mezquite
MEZQUITE (Aztec, mizquitl), the Mexican name for prosopis glandulosa, which was formerly placed in the genus algarobia, a tree of the mimosa suborder of the leguminosæ. The mezquite seldom grows more than 30 or 40 ft. high, and when well developed has a rounded head; but owing to the injuries caused by insects and the parasitic mistletoe, the trunk and branches are frequently irregular and distorted. In its foliage it greatly resembles the honey locust (Gleditschia), having usually twice-pinnate leaves, which are glandular where the leaflets join the common petiole, and have a pair of strong spines at their insertion upon the stem; the leaflets are narrow, somewhat curved, and an inch or more in length; the small greenish-yellow flowers are crowded in dense axillary spikes 3 to 4 in. long; the pod or bean is 6 in. or more in length, straight or curved, compressed, and somewhat constricted between the numerous seeds. The tree has a wide range, being found as far north as the Canadian river and extending far south into Mexico; it makes its appearance a short distance from the coast in western Texas, and is the most abundant tree as far westward as the Colorado and the gulf of California; it is exceedingly variable, sometimes appearing as a large shrub forming dense thickets, which from the abundance of spines are impassable, and at other times growing singly with well developed heads, and when viewed from a distance appearing like an apple orchard, so uniform are the trees in size.
Were it not for the mezquite, large tracts in Arizona and northern Mexico would present still greater difficulties to the traveller than they do, as this tree there affords the sole supply of fuel and forage. The wood is very hard, fine-grained, dark reddish brown in the heart wood, and is sometimes used by the Mexicans for furniture, but it is difficult to get pieces large enough to be valuable for lumber; its durability is probably not inferior to that of the locust. As fuel the mezquite has no superior; it makes a hard sonorous coal, a fire of which is almost as intense as one of anthracite; travellers across the desert country where it abounds rely upon it for fuel, the roots being found almost everywhere; where frequent fires destroy the trees the roots remain untouched, throw up a yearly growth of small stems, and thus continue to increase in size, while the growth above ground is destroyed every year or two; it very often happens that a clump of bushes with stems only an inch or two in diameter will lead to the unearthing of roots as large as one's leg. At a profitable silver mine in the state of Chihuahua, visited by the writer several years ago, the smelting of the ore was effected entirely with mezquite roots as fuel. The pods, or beans as they are generally called, at a certain state of maturity contain a sugary pulp, which often has a very pleasant flavor, and when quite ripe is mealy, dry, and highly saccharine, but with a mawkish taste that is to most persons disagreeable, though the Mexicans and Indians are fond of it; the dried pods are beaten in a mortar, and when the seeds and other matters are separated by sifting a sugary meal is obtained, which is used for sweetening pinole (see Maize), and otherwise as a substitute for sugar. The great value of the pods is as a food for horses and cattle, which eat them with the greatest avidity; in many places entirely destitute of grass the mezquite beans are most welcome to the traveller. It has been proposed in Utah and Colorado to employ the mezquite as a hedge plant, to which its thorny character would adapt it; but its great liability to be attacked by borers makes the experiment doubtful. The tree exudes a gum resembling gum arabic. (See Gum.)—The plant called by Americans the screw-pod or screw-bean mezquite, and by the Mexicans tornillo, is prosopis pubescens, to which the name strombocarpa has also been given; it has a similar general appearance to the mezquite, but is more slender; its spines are smaller, and its leaves pubescent on the under surface; the pod is curiously twisted to form a close spiral about 2 in. long; this also con- tains a sweetish pulp, but is less valuable as a food for animals than the mezquite. The tree, which is found from Utah and Nevada southward, is less abundant than the mezquite, and generally prefers a moister soil.