Black Locust Versatility
We ripped out the almond tree. I planted it with the idea of having protein growing on site. Neglected to research it first (I know, I'm shocked, too!)--turns out they don't like clay. Consequently, it was managing to put leaves on, but little else--no blossoms, problems with insects and fungus--Not A Happy Tree. So it is gone. Good durn thing I bought it bare root.
In its place
Native to the Southeastern United States, Black Locusts can reach up to 70 feet tall, continue terminal growth until fall and exhibit blossoms much like wisteria. The foliage is blue-green and feathery, with the continually-added new growth coming out in a soft yellow-green. It has thorns. Locusts are a huge favorite with all manner of pollinators. The cultivar in question is called "Twisty Baby," and is a contorted, dwarf form of the original (with far fewer, and smaller, thorns). It is created by grafting to standard Black Locust root stock, which is where things get interesting. Black Locust is one of those natives with invasive tendencies-- one of the reasons it is used for land reclamation.
belongs to the legume family and is a nitrogen-fixing plant. It has a reputation for being an extremely hard wood [I can personally testify to this], making it a favorite for fence posts in rural locations where it can be found all over the country.
Part of the invasive nature of the tree comes from its suckering habit. Since "Twisty Baby" is grafted onto the true native rootstock, it will exhibit this same characteristic. Which may give some gardeners pause. I, being a prunaholic, was not deterred. The other part of its invasiveness comes from the prolific blooming and seeding of the species. And here is where "Twisty Baby" may disappoint. It can be a reluctant bloomer, which is a pity on one hand and perhaps a blessing on the other. Fewer blooms, fewer seeds--less invasive. The form of this cultivar is just terrific, so we chose it for that reason (along with its support of native species of insects). As all referenced sites will attest, the native is not recommended for most landscapes because of the suckering and the brittle nature of its branches. Were I not a well-practiced and perhaps aggressive "pruner," it would not make sense for me to install this tree. Even the dwarf variety.
We are fortunate to know a carpenter who had leftover black locust wood from a deck project on a house he was building. While long, damage-free boards were hard to come by, we were able to repair an outside table, extend a deck and build two other bench-type projects. When working with black locust, every screw must have a pre-drilled hole. And when you finish drilling all those holes, you'll probably have to replace your drill bit. But it's worth it. Locust wood treated with a teak or tung oil ages to beautiful red tones--unbelievably gorgeous. Were it not victimized in most of its range as it grows by locust borers, it would certainly be of much more importance to the timber industry. After harvest... well, I'd just like to see a borer try!
Black Locusts are enjoyed by hummingbirds and bees. However, they also play host to certain butterfly and moth species such as the silver-spotted skipper. And those butterflies will be able to use the tree even if it does not bloom, making sure you have a habitat-enhancing tree. Land reclamation, firewood, fenceposts, pollinator and caterpillar chow, hummingbird feeder--it may not always be a convenient tree, but
is definitely versatile!