Prosopis velutina

Accession Count: 274
Common Name: velvet mesquite
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Family Name: Fabaceae
Botanical Name: Prosopis velutina
Family Synonyms: Leguminosae
Sub Species:
Velvet mesquite is is a woody perennial that grows as a single- or multi-trunk tree or shrub with rough dark-colored bark (2). The branches of this plant grow horizontally or toward the ground. Under ideal conditions it will grow over 30 feet wide and tall (2).The leaves are bipinnately compound, with 13-30 pairs of gray-green leaflets. A distinguishing feature of this species are the dense trichomes on the leaf and stem surfaces giving these structures a velvety texture. The species also has two pinnae (sets of leaflets). Velvet mesquites have many small flowers clustered together in dense yellow catkins. Each flower has 10 stamens. Pods of the velvet mesquite are slightly flattened, and straw-colored (sometimes with red streaks)  and 3-4" long (5-8 cm). 

 Yellow flower clusters develop in spring and will hang from the branches (1). In addition, young branches of this plant have thorns. Insects, invasive roots, staining sap and allergenic pollen commonly present problems to home owners (1).
Compound: Pro vel
Geographic Origin: Desert Southwest
Ecozone Origin: Nearctic
Biome Origin: Desert
Natural History: Prosopis is a genus of spiny trees and shrubs found in warm regions primarily of the New World. The velvet mesquite is a highly abundant, bee-pollinated legume in the SW that forms mutually beneficial associations with nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the soil. As a result, they are able to produce protein-rich seeds that were originally scarified and dispersed by megafauna, and now by riparian weathering and cattle (2). Although generally grown in “bosques,” (dense mesquite stands), they are increasingly facing habitat destruction leading to disturbed patterns of growth – sometimes creating more dispersed groups or solitary specimens (2). The dry fruit pods are enjoyed by livestock who then spread the seeds. Cattle dispersal and the suppression of fire have encouraged the mesquite to expand into grasslands transforming them into woodlands.
Cultivation Notes:
The velvet mesquite is propagated by seed and grows best in soils that drain well (1). This plant does not require additional watering, though periodic (once every month/two months) root zone soaking during the dry summers will improve appearance (1). Thinning its young crown may decrease the chance of blow over (1). The roots of this species are invasive and are known to cause damage to structures nearby (1). In addition, this species drips dark sap from its wounds, which stains masonry as well as metals (1).
Ethnobotany: Due to the abundance of this tree in the Southwestern US, there are many uses for the velvet mesquite in a variety of aspects of life. Mesquite was extensively used from pre-Colombian times to present (3). The beans known as “Pechitas” are edible and have served as important starch in the diets of indigenous people. Tohono O’ohdam still make mesquite flour, and today this practice is becoming commercially viable (2). Piñon nuts and acorns were traded between native peoples in exchange for mesquite (2). The River Pima, who stored large quantities of mesquite flour, have two calendar months that reference velvet mesquite:  the “mesquite leaves moon” and “mesquite flowers moon” (2, 3).

Bees pollinate it and some enthusiasts claim that it produces the world’s finest honey.  The flowers are also sweet and edible and the tree sap can be made into a cold and flu remedy or candy. Locals of the southwest also revere the charcoal made from mesquite wood for the delicious flavor it gives food on the grill. 

The roots, bark, and leaves also have medicinal properties and have been used for treatment of conjunctivitis, intestinal parasites, acne, and dandruff. The inner bark is also used in basketry and fabrics. The wood is valued for building, basketry, and as a fabric, and the gum for making candy, pottery glue, and black dye (3, 4). 

Height: 20 - 50 feet
Width: 20 - 50 feet
Growth Rate:
Grow Season: Summer
Flower Season: Spring
Color: Yellow
Function: Shade
Spread: Non-spreading
Allergen: Allergenic
Toxicity: Benign
Hardy: Hardy
Water Use: Low water Use

  1.  Walters, James E, and Balbir Backhaus. Shade and Color with Water-Conserving Plants. Timber Press, 1992.
  2. Warren, Jones and Sacamano, Charles. Landscape Plants for Dry Regions. Cambridge, MA. Fisher Books, 2000. Print. 
  3. Phillips, Steven J. and Comus, Patricia Wentworth.  A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert. Tucson: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Press, 2000.  Print. 
  4. Hodgson, Wendy C.  Food Plants of the Sonoran Desert.  Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2001.  Print.

Prosopis velutina