Height: Up to about 80 feet
Lifespan: Usually reaches a maximum age of about 120 years
Fall Foliage: Yellow to orange
Range: Primarily restricted to the Mississippi River Valley, north to Pennsylvania and Iowa
Typical Habitat: This tree is typically found in well-drained, upland habitats, including old fields and forest margins
The Honey Locust: An Impressively Armored Species
Fortunately for those exploring forest in the eastern United States, relatively few of our native trees bear thorns. There are a few that do – with the devil’s walking stick (Aralia spinosa) being the most obvious example – but even these tend to have relatively small thorns.
But the honey locust has giant thorns, which may even branch to form multi-spined clusters. These thorns sometimes reach 4 inches in length, and they represent a legitimate safety hazard to careless nature lovers. Note that you may encounter thornless honey locusts in some places, which are widely planted in residential scenarios.
Honey Locust Identification: Tips & Tricks
Because trees with compound leaves are outnumbered by those with simple leaves by a large margin, it’s usually easy to distinguish the honey locust from most other U.S. species, aside from the hickories, ashes, and a handful of others. For that matter, the honey locust often produces doubly compound leaves, which is an even rarer phenomenon.
But it is the tree’s numerous large spines that make identification pretty easy. The black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) is the tree that most closely resembles the honey locust, but its thorns are much smaller (generally 1 inch in length or less), and the leaves are rarely doubly compound.
The Honey Locust: Additional Information
Still curious about the honey locust tree? Learn more by visiting the following resources:
- Virginia Tech Dendrology: A brief but helpful guide to the species, this page includes identification data, links to similar species, and a range map.
- U.S. Forest Service: A comprehensive guide to the honey locust, including data about forest associates and the specie’s response to fire.
- N.C. State Extension: An overview of the species, along with a handy quick-reference chart and scads of photographs.