Honey Locust

Gleditsia triacanthos


Illustration of honey locust leaves, thorns, fruit.
Honey locust, Gleditsia triacanthos
Paul Nelson

Caesalpiniaceae (sennas)


Honey locust is a medium-sized tree with a short, thorny trunk, thorny branches, and a loose, open crown.

Leaves are alternate, compound, 5–10 inches long, with 15–30 leaflets; leaflets ¾–2 inches long, broadest near the base to even throughout; margin entire or sometimes with very small, round teeth; upper surface shiny; lower surface paler, often hairy.

Bark is grayish brown to black, on older trees with grooves deep, narrow, separating into scaly ridges with sides or ends free and curved outward; often bearing heavy, simple or branching spines.

Twigs are greenish or reddish brown, shiny, stout, often zigzag, with solitary or branched spines that are rigid, sharp, straight, shiny, purplish brown, up to 12 inches long.

Flowers May–June; greenish white; male flowers in catkins, female flowers in clusters; found on separate trees or sometimes as a complete flower.

Fruit a dark brown, leathery pod, 6–18 inches long, narrow, flat, twisting at maturity; seeds 6–27, brown, oval, about ½ inch long.


Height: to 60 feet.

Habitat and conservation

Occurs in bottomlands along streams and their valleys, also upland slopes and open or wooded pastures. It is a common invader of pastures and idle fields, and it is troublesome for farmers whose tractor tires the thorns puncture. It, and trees such as eastern red cedar, wild plum, and persimmon, are some of the first woody plants to grow in places where forests have been cut down, and their establishment is one of the first steps in that land reverting back to a woodland or forest community.

image of Honey Locust distribution map
Distribution in Missouri


Human connections

Cultivated thornless varieties of honey locust are popular in landscaping and along city streets — in autumn, the small leaflets and midveins make little mess. Native Americans ate the fleshy sweet pulp of the young pods, and the pods and inner bark have in the past been used medicinally.

Ecosystem connections

The seeds and pulpy pods provide winter food for rabbits, squirrels, and deer. The flowers are reportedly a good bee food. Honey locust is an “invader” or early colonizing species, one of the first kinds of trees to become established in disturbed landscapes that are reverting back to forest.