Prosopis juliflora DC.
Prosopis chilensis (Mol.) Stuntz is often considered synonymous, but see
Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.
- Folk Medicine
- Yields and Economics
- Biotic Factors
Mesquite pods are among the earliest known foods of prehistoric man in the new
world. Today flour products made from the pods are still popular, although
only sporadically prepared, mostly by Amerindians. Pods are made into gruels,
sometimes fermented to make a mesquite wine. The leaves can be used for
forage. Providing good bee pasturage also, nectar from mesquite yields a
superior honey. The wood is used for parquet floors, furniture, and turnery
items, fencepost, pilings, as a substrate for producing single-cell protein,
but most of all for fuel. Toasted seeds are added to coffee. Bark, rich in
tannin, is used for roofing in Colombia. The gum forms an adhesive mucilage,
used as an emulsifying agent. Gum is used in confectionary and mending
pottery. Roots contain 67% tannin, which might discourage Rhizobia.
According to Hartwell (19671971), the juice is used in folk remedies for that
cancerous condition he terms "superfluous flesh." Reported to be cathartic,
cyanogenetic, discutient, emetic, POISON, stomachic, and vulnerary, mesquite is
a folk remedy for catarrh, colds, diarrhea, dysentery, excrescences, eyes, flu,
headcold, hoarseness, inflammation, itch, measles, pinkeye, stomachache, sore
throat, and wounds (Duke and Wain, 1981). Pima Indians drank the hot tea for
sore throat (Lewis and Elvin-Lewis, 1977). Aqueous and alcoholic extracts are
Per 100 g, the flower is reported to contain (ZMB): 21.0 g protein, 3.2 g fat,
65.8 g total carbohydrate, 15.5 g fiber, 10.0 g ash, 1,310 mg Ca, and 400 mg P.
Leaves contain 19.0 g protein, 2.9 g fat, 69.6 g total carbohydrate, total
carbohydrate, 21.6 g fiber, 8.5 g ash, 2,080 mg Ca, and 220 g P. Fruits
contain 13.9 g protein, 3.0 g fat, 78.3 g total carbohydrate, 27.7 g fiber, and
4.8 g ash. Seeds contain (ZMB) 65.2 g protein, 7.8 g fat, 21.8 g total
carbohydrate, 2.8 g fiber, and 5.2 g ash. (FAO, 1981a). Another analysis of
the fruit shows 14.35% water (hygroscopic), 1.64% oil, 16.36% starch, 30.25%
glucose, 0.85% nitrogenous material, 5.81% tannin-like material, 3.5% mineral
salts, and 27.24% cellulose. Mesquite gum readily hydrolyses with dilute
sulfuric acid to yield L-arabinose and D-galactose and 4-o-methyl-D-glucuronic
acid at 4:2:1. Owing to the high content of arabinose, the gum is an excellent
source of sugar. Roots contain 6.7% tannin, bark 38.4%, and dry wood 0.9%.
The alkaloids 5-hydroxytryptamine and tryptamine are reported from this species
According to Mitchell and Rook, the thorn from mesquite, on penetrating the
eye, causes more inflammation than expected from the physical injury. The
irritation may be due to waxes. Injection of cerotic acid is destructive to
the eye. (Still Amerindians applied the leaves for conjunctivitis.) Using the
wood in a fireplace has caused dermatitis, as has working with seasoned wood.
The gum has irritant properties. Reports on cattle toxicity vary. Lewis and
Elvin-Lewis (1977) report that ingestion over long periods of time will result
in death in cattle. Further, they report that the pollen may cause allergic
rhinitis, bronchial asthma, and/or hypersensitivity pneumonitis. Kingsbury
(1964) goes into some detail on mesquite poisoning in cattle, including cases
where autopsies showed pods and seeds in the rumen 9 months after the cattle
could have ingested them. Mesquite poisoning may induce a permanent impairment
of the ability to digest cellulose. Felker and Bandurski (1979) also provide
interesting detail. If Prosopis pods are the sole food source for
cattle, ca 1% become sick, and some die with a compacted pod ball in the rumen.
Death is attributed to high sugar content repressing the rumen-bacterial
cellulose activity. Mesquite feeding to pigs was promising during the first
four weeks, deteriorating thereafter, perhaps due to phytohemagglutinins and
trypsin inhibition. Feeding trials with sheep show a 15% higher protein
digestibility coefficient for mesquite pods than for alfalfa hay. Trypsin
inhibition has been demonstrated the TI content 1.4 TIU/mg (Del Valle et al.,
1983). Contains isorhamnetin 11 3-glucoside, apigenin 6, 8-diglycoside, and
traces of quercitin 3',3diOMe, leutolin 3'-OMe, and apigenin diglycoside
Perennial deciduous thorny shrub or small tree, to 12 m tall; trunk to 1.2 m in
diameter, bark thick, brown or blackish, shallowly fissured; leaves compound,
commonly many more than 9 pairs, the leaflets mostly 510 mm long,
linear-oblong, glabrous, often hairy, commonly rounded at the apex; stipular
spines, if any, yellowish, often stout; flowers perfect, greenish-yellow,
sweet-scented, spikelike; corolla deeply lobate. Pods several-seeded,
strongly compressed when young, thick at maturity, more or less constricted
between the seeds, 1025 cm long, brown or yellowish, 1030-seeded. Seed
compressed and oval or elliptic, 2.57 mm long, brown (Reed, 1970).
Reported from the South American Center of Diversity, mesquite, or cvs thereof,
is reported to tolerate drought, grazing, heavy soil, sand, as well as saline
dry flats and weeds. Some Argentine germplasm tolerated mild frost at 40° S
latitude. (2n = 28, 52, 56, 112) (Zevin and Zhukovsky, 1975, Simpson,
Originally Central and/or South American, the mesquite is now pantropically
introduced and establishing, often as a weed. It is classified as a principal
weed in Mexico, a common weed in the US (but does not naturally occur in the
US, this report due to the long prevailing taxonomic confusion), and a weed in
Australia, Dominican Republic, India, Iraq, and Venezuela. According to the
NAS, the tree ranges from sea level to 1,500 m. According to the taxonomic
work of Burkart (1976), neither P. juliflora nor P. chilensis, as
now defined, occur in the US.
Probably ranging from Tropical Thorn to Dry through Subtropical Thorn to Dry
Forest Life Zones (with little frost), mesquite is reported to tolerate annual
precipitation of 1.5 to 16.7 dm (mean of 29 cases = 9.9), annual temperature of
20.3 to 28.5°C (mean of 21 cases = 25.5), and pH around neutral
(Ecosystematic Data Base) (NAS, 1980a).
Propagated, if need be (weeds rarely need be), by seed, root suckers, and
hardwood cuttings. Hot water or acid treatment will expedite seed germination.
In India, seeds collected in MayJune may be sown right after collection, but
SeptemberOctober seed are not sown until April. For line fencing, seeds may
be sown in two adjacent rows ca 50 cm apart, with a spacing of 30 cm between
the sowings. Transplanting one-year olds in the rainy season is preferable to
direct sowing. Root and shoot cuttings with minimum diameter 12.5 mm at the
collar and 100 mm long are satisfactory (C.S.I.R., 19481976). Pot studies
have shown water requirements of nearly 5,000 cm3 per g of dry
matter (Felker et al, 1981).
Bearing fruits in 3 to 4 years, the trees are usually harvested by hand, often
after the fruits have fallen.
Felker and Bandurski (1979) estimate 2,000 kg/ha pods for such species as
Prosopis juliflora in unmanaged Arizona desert, 4,00020,000 kg/ha pods
in arid Hawaiian savannas. Speaking of wood, the NAS (1980a) states that on a
15-year rotation, expected yields are 75100 MT/ha, on 10-year rotation, 5060
MT, suggesting wood yields of 57.5 MT/ha/yr over and above the fruit yields.
According to TIME (March 12, 1984, p. 70), mesquite wood is selling for nearly
$5.00 a kilogram. TIME quotes Joe Messina, founder of Mesquite Treat
Enterprises, as saying that in Arizona mesquite costs about $100 a cord, which
in dry wood approximates 3,000 lbs. In one instance, Messina cleared the
mesquite off the land of a grateful farmer, free for the chopping. He sells
the wood to restaurants in 50-lb. bags at $12.50 for logs, $17.50 for chunks,
and $20 for chips. All this because "Mesquite grilling imparts a sweet smoky
burnishing of flavor...an almost imperceptible flavor to fish, though a more
pronounced and interesting one to shrimp." (TIME, Mar. 12, 1984). Galt et al.
(1982) showed that a mesquite free pasture (annual precipitation ca 4 dm)
produced 1,165 kg/ha forage compared to 818 kg/ha (17% mesquite) on the
mesquite pasture. Burkart (1943) cites studies showing yields of 87
hectoliters/ha in the wild. He also cites Indian studies suggesting that bees
can harvest nectar more than enough for 1 kg of honey.
Fast-growing, drought resistant, and with remarkable coppicing power,
Prosopis is a natural fuelwood candidate. With specific gravity 0.70 or
higher, the wood has been termed "wooden anthracite", because of its high heat
content, burning slowly and evenly and holding heat well. This species
provides >90% of the fuelwood in some Indian villages (Sharma, 1981).
Although no direct data on N-fixation of Prosopis are available, Felker
and Bandurski (1979) suggest that tree legumes (exclusive of Caesalpiniaceae)
fix between 155 and 580 kg/ha/yr. Soils under the crowns of legumes in the
desert usually have 10 times more N (0.3%) than those under non nitrogen fixers
Fungi reported on this or related species include Agrobacterium tumefaciens,
Cerospora prosopidis, Didymosphaeria cryptosphaerioides, Fomes everhartii, F.
rimosus, Gloesporium leguminum, Leveilulla taurica, Napicladium prosopodium,
Phoma sp., Phyllosticta juliflora, Phymatotrichum omnivorum,
Physalospora mutila, Polyporus adustus, P. pinsitus, P. texanus, Ravenelia
arizonica, R. holwayi, Schizophyllum commune, Scleropycnium aureum, Septoria
prosopidis, and Sphaeropsis prosopodis. Among the Coleoptera,
Amblycerus sp., Apate monachus, Bruchidius uberatus, Caryedon serratus,
Celosterna scabrator, Oncideres putator, Rhipibruchus prosopis; among
Hemiptera, Icerya formicarum, and Oxyrhachis tarandus; among
Isoptera Anacanthotermes macrocephalus; among Nematoda
Meloidogyne sp. Galt et al. (1982) show the botanical composition of
mesquite pastures on the Santa Rita Experiment Range. Felker et al. (1981)
review the pest infestations of their Prosopis plantings with
suggestions for their control.
Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
- Burkart, A. 1943. Las leguminosas Argentinas. Acme Agency. Buenos Aires.
- Burkart, A. 1976. A monograph of the genus Prosopis (Leguminosae subfam.
Mimosoideae). J. Arn. Arb. 57(3/4):219249; 450525.
- C.S.I.R. (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research). 19481976. The wealth
of India. 11 vols. New Delhi.
- Del Valle, F.R., Escobedo, M., Munoz, M.J., Ortega, R., and Bourges, H. 1983.
Chemical and nutritional studies on mesquite beans Prosopis juliflora.
J. Food Sci. 48(3):9149.
- FAO. 1980b. Genetic resources of tree species in arid and semi-arid areas.
- Felker, P. and Bandurski, R.S. 1979. Uses and potential uses of leguminous
trees for minimal energy input agriculture. Econ. Bot. 33(2):172184.
- Felker, P., Cannell, G.H., Clark, P.R., Osborn, J.F., and Nash, P. 1981.
Screening Prosopis (mesquite) species for biofuel production on semiarid
lands. Final Report to US DOE. NTIS. Springfield, VA.
- Galt, H.D., Theurer, B., and Martin, S.C. 1982. Botanical composition of steer
diets on mesquite and mesquite-free desert grassland. J. Range Mgt.
- Hartwell, J.L. 19671971. Plants used against cancer. A survey. Lloydia 3034.
- Kingsbury, J.M. 1964, Poisonous plants of the United States and Canada.
Prentice-Hall, Inc. Englewood Cliffs, NJ.
- Lewis, W.H. and Elvin-Lewis, M.P.F. 1977. Medical botany. John Wiley &
Sons, New York.
- N.A.S. 1980a. Firewood crops. Shrub and tree species for energy production.
National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC.
- Reed, C.F. 1970. Selected weeds of the United States. Ag. Handbook 366. USDA,
- Sharma, I.K. 1981. Ecological and economic importance of Prosopis
juliflora in the Indian Thar Desert. J. Econ. Taxon. Bot. 2(0):2458.
- Simpson, B.B. (ed.). 1977. Mesquite, its biology in two desert scrub
ecosystems. Dowden, Hutchinson & Ross, Inc. Stroudsburg, PA.
- Zeven, A.C. and Zhukovsky, P.M. 1975. Dictionary of cultivated plants and their
centres of diversity. Centre for Agricultural Publishing and Documentation,
Last update Thursday, January 8, 1998 by aw