If you were to walk the streets of my neighborhood these days, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s autumn. The portions of sidewalks and yards under trees are carpeted with piles—but those are not piles of leaves. Instead, if you were to step closer, you would notice that those yellow, tan, and dark brown piles are filled with seedpods.
It’s high summer here and the trees are doing their best to sow as many seeds as they can for the next generation of trees. Yes, the Sonoran Desert is filled with trees as well as cacti. I’ve mentioned the green-barked palo verde trees before, but today I want to focus on mesquite trees, which have been highly treasured for centuries, and not just for their seeds.
Mesquite seeds are called beans, perhaps in part because these hardy trees belong to the legume family (which includes beans, peas, soybeans, and peanuts). This means those beans are full of nutritious proteins. They are ground up (along with the pods) to make nutritious breads or tortillas. The seeds can also be stored for years and have been used to feed livestock and soldiers during tough times. Mesquite roots, bark, and leaves were all used for medicinal purposes by Native Americans. And, as I noted a couple weeks ago, javelinas also really like mesquite pods.
I recently read that mesquite pods used to mature in September or October. I’m guessing that a combination of drought and global warming is responsible for this earlier fruiting. There have been a few summer monsoon storms blow through the area, but so far none of them have dropped appreciable rain on our neighborhood. So, these hardy mesquite trees sit with the drought—as do we humans, adapting as best they can.
What are the most unusual seeds you’ve ever eaten? What was the occasion? How are the trees in your area dealing with climate change?