Since I like trees, and live in Phoenix, Arizona, people often ask me what grows naturally there, and I point to a mesquite. You see them everywhere in Phoenix, and if you just walk past them, I understand. I've even heard of them referred to as "parking lot trees". I took that pic up there yesterday while I was sitting outside drinking coffee, and while it's a beautiful specimen of a mesquite I was aware that it seemed as if I were taking a photo of "nothing".
Mesquite trees were in the Sonoran Desert long before anyone lived there. Long before the Hohokam, long before the pioneers of Phoenix. For about 10,000 years, which is when the last ice age ended, and the area became the desert that we know today.
But really, they're not trees, just big bushes. When you see them around the modern streets of Phoenix you're just seeing carefully trimmed gigantic bushes. Left to grow naturally, they sprawl and stay low to the ground. To make them look more treelike, the lower branches needed to be trimmed off.
Mesquite is a wonderful tree for shade in Phoenix, and they use precious little water. They have incredibly long taproots, and once they're established they don't need regular water, although giving them some makes them look a little better.
Mesquites are evergreen. That is, they don't lose their leaves in the fall, so they look pretty much the same in the summer as in the winter. But like all trees, they shed. Deciduous trees shed all of their leaves all at one in time in the fall, and mesquites shed a little all year long. So they're a poor choice around swimming pools, or anywhere that needs to be kept constantly swept.
|The Phoenix townsite - Van Buren to Harrison, and 7th Avenue to 7th Street.|
Mesquites are as tough as nails, and are never bothered by the most extremes of heat and cold that Phoenix has. Before downtown Phoenix was built, back before 1870, much of that area was a dense forest of mesquite. In fact, the mesquite had to be removed in order for streets and buildings to be started. And that means that downtown Phoenix was a riparian area, which just means an area that naturally got some flood water every once in a while. Mesquite is tough, but it needs water to get going and to stay healthy. That's why you see them growing naturally in washes, but not on the side of hills, like a cactus can do.
If you live in the desert, and are pondering planting a tree, I recommend mesquite. If you live in the Phoenix area and are wondering what they look like, just look everywhere.
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