The mesquite tree grows to a height of up to 12 metres (39 ft) and has a trunk with a diameter of up to 1.2 metres (3.9 ft). Its leaves are deciduous, bi-pinnate, light green, compounded with 12 to 20 leaflets. Flowers shortly after leaf development. The flowers are in 5–10 cms. long green-yellow cylindrical spikes, which occur in clusters of 2 to 5 at the ends of branches. Pods are 20 to 30 cms. long and contain between 10 and 30 seeds per pod. A mature plant can produce hundreds of thousands of seeds. Seeds remain viable for up to 10 years. The tree reproduces by way of seeds, not vegetatively. Seeds are spread by cattle and other animals that consume the seed pods and spread the seeds in their droppings.
Its roots are able to grow to a great depth in search of water: in 1960, they were discovered at a depth of 53 meters (175 feet) at an open-pit mine near Tucson, Arizona, putting them among the deepest known roots.
This is said to have been introduced to Sri Lanka in the 19th century, where it is now known as vanni-andara, or katu andara in Sinhala. But given its existence and recognition even as a holy tree in ancient India, that claim is unlikely to be true as it had been mistaken for Acacia nilotica. The tree is believed to have existed in the Vanni and Mannar regions for a long time. This species has thorns in pairs at the nodes but thornless internodes. It may also be almost thornless.
Prosopis juliflora has become an invasive weed in several countries where it was introduced. It is considered a noxious invader in Ethiopia, in Hawaii, in Sri Lanka, Jamaica, the Middle East, India, Nigeria, Sudan, Somalia, Senegal and southern Africa. It is also a major weed in the southwestern United States. It is hard and expensive to remove as the plant can regenerate from the roots.
In Australia, mesquite has colonized more than 800,000 hectares of arable land, having severe economic and environmental impacts. With its thorns and many low branches it forms impenetrable thickets which prevent cattle from accessing watering holes, etc. It also takes over pastoral grasslands and uses scarce water. Livestock which consume excessive amounts of seed pods are poisoned. It causes land erosion due to the loss of the grasslands that are habitats for native plants and animals. It also provides shelter for feral animals such as pigs and cats.
In the Afar Region in Ethiopia, where the mesquite was introduced in the late 1970s and early 1980s, its aggressive growth leads to a monoculture, denying native plants water and sunlight, and not providing food for native animals and cattle. The Regional government with the non-governmental organisationFARM-Africa are looking for ways to commercialize the tree's wood, but pastoralists who call it the "Devil Tree" insist that P. juliflora be eradicated.
In Sri Lanka this mesquite was planted in the 1950s near Hambantota as a shade and erosion control tree. It then invaded the grass lands in and around Hambantota and the Bundala National Park, causing similar problems as in Australia and Ethiopia.
Prosopis juliflora has a wide range of vernacular names, although no widely used English one except for "mesquite", which is used for several species of Prosopis. It is called bayahonda blanca in Spanish and bayarone Français in French. Other similar names are also used, including bayahonde, bayahonda and bayarone but these may also refer to any other Neotropical member of the genusProsopis. The tree is known by a range of other names in various parts of the world, including algarrobe, cambrón, cashaw, épinard, mesquite, mostrenco, or mathenge. Many of the less-specific names are because over large parts of its range, it is the most familiar and common species of Prosopis, and thus to locals simply "the" bayahonde, algarrobe, etc. "Velvet mesquite" is sometimes given as an English name, but properly refers to a different species, Prosopis velutina.
Names in and around Indian Subcontinent, where the species is widely used for firewood and to make barriers, often compare it to similar trees and note its introduced status; thus in Hindi it is called angaraji babul, Kabuli kikar, vilayati babul, vilayati khejra or vilayati kikar. The angaraji and vilayati names mean they were introduced by Europeans, while Kabuli kikar (or keekar) means "Kabul acacia"; babul specifically refers to the Gum Arabic Tree (Acacia nilotica) and khejra (or khejri) to Prosopis cineraria, both of which are native to South Asia. In Gujarati it is called gando baval and in Marwari, baavlia.In Karnataka, in Kannada it is known as "Ballaari Jaali" meaning Jaali, local name, abundant in and around Bellary district. In Tamil Nadu, in Tamil language it is known as cheemai karuvel (சீமைக்கருவேலை), a quite literal equivalent of vilayati babul. A vernacular Tamil name is velikathan(வேலிகாத்தான்), from veli (வேலி) "fence" + kathan (காத்தான்) "protector", for its use to make spiny barriers. In Andhra Pradesh, in the Telugu language it is known as mulla tumma (ముల్ల తుమ్మ) or sarkar tumma.
Prosopis chilensis was sometimes considered to belong here too, but it is usually considered a good species these days. Several other authors misapplied P. chilensis to Honey Mesquite (P. glandulosa).
Duke, James A. (1983): Prosopis juliflora DC.. In: Handbook of Energy Crops. Purdue University Center for New Crops & Plant Products. Version of 1998-JAN-08. Retrieved 2008-MAR-19.
International Legume Database & Information Service (ILDIS) (2005): Prosopis juliflora. Version 10.01, November 2005. Retrieved 2007-DEC-20.
Villalobos, Soraya; Vargas, Orlando & Melo, Sandra (2007): Uso, manejo y conservacion de "yosú", Stenocereus griseus (Cactaceae) en la Alta Guajira colombiana [Usage, Management and Conservation of yosú, Stenocereus griseus (Cactaceae), in the Upper Guajira, Colombia]. [Spanish with English abstract] Acta Biologica Colombiana 12(1): 99-112. PDF fulltext
Reasons: Native from Mexico and the West Indies through Central America to Colombia and Venezuela and naturalized southward (with certainty in Uruguay). Escaped (and considered noxious) in Hawaii; cultivated in the Phillipines. Utilized widely. Thrives from 0-300 m alt.
Comments: Has been introduced to Hawaii where it has become a highly important timber, supplying large quantities of fuel and stock feed, and affording nectar for bees; naturalized in Uruguay where it supplies fuel, posts, stakes, multi-purpose wood and food for man and beast; underground stems make excellent firewood where little else is obtainable; wood is valuable for railway ties and in Texas has been used for paving blocks; gum exuding from the trunk makes mucilage. The bark and wood are used in tanning; the inner bark of the stem is used medicinally; roots supply fiber for cordage and coarse fabric; flowers are meliferous, yielding a high grade honey; Pima Indians sometimes eat its flower spikes. They ground pods into a meal to make cakes called "mesquitamales". The meal can also be mixed to form the beverage "mesquitatole" or fermented to make a kind of beer. The firewood is of excellent quality and makes superior charcoal (Record, 1924). Because of its high heat value the wood has been termed "wooden anthracite". It burns slowly and evenly and holds heat well (B80NRC0100LA).