Gleditsia triacanthos (Honey Locust)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Fabaceae (Pea)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:sun; moist soil; rich woods, urban landscapes
Bloom season:May - June
Plant height:50 to 80 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FAC
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Cluster type: raceme

[photo of male flowers] Elongated racemes 2 to 5 inches long from leaf axils on young branches, with separate male and female flowers usually on separate trees or on separate branches of same tree, though some flowers can be perfect (having both male and female parts). Flowers are greenish yellow, 1/8 to ¼ inch across. Male flowers are densely packed in the cluster and have 4 or 5 petals with 5 or 7 stamens.

[photo of female/perfect flowers] Female flowers are more loosely clustered and have a single stout, pale pistil with a greenish cap; perfect flowers have stamens surrounding the pistil. For both sexes, the calyx holding the flower is 5-lobed, green and hairy. Flowers are fragrant.

Leaves and bark: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: compound

[scan of twice compound leaf] Leaves are alternate and once or twice compound, sometimes both types on the same branch. Once compound leaves are 4 to 7 inches long with 6 to 12 pairs of leaflets, typically in clusters on older lateral branches. Twice compound leaves are up to 12 inches long with up to 150 leaflets. Leaflets are mostly lance-elliptic, up to 1¼ inches long, toothless or scalloped along the edges, and once-compound leaflets about twice as large as twice-compound leaflets. Surfaces are smooth or sparsely hairy, or just hairy along the midvein and stalks. The upper surface darker than the lower surface. Fall color is a deep gold.

[photo of twigs] New twigs are green and finely hairy, becoming reddish or greenish brown, smooth and shiny with small brownish lenticels (pores) and swollen nodes. Branches become dull, dark gray to nearly black, rough textured from the lenticels.

[photo of mature trunk] Old bark has scaly plates. Branches and trunks can be armed with simple or compound thorns up to 8 inches long. The trunk can reach up to 36 inches in diameter at breast height (dbh).

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a long, flattened pod up to 15 inches long and 1¼ inches wide, drying dark purplish brown and very twisted, the bean-like seeds inside dark brown and shiny, very hard, flattened kidney-shaped, about 1/3 inch long.


Minnesota sits at the very northwest edge of Honey Locust's North American range with a sole record collected in Houston county in 1899. That collection site is now flooded by the backwaters of Lock and Dam #8 and the native species is likely extinct in the state. However, it is a popular urban tree and has been widely planted throughout much of the state. Trees found growing wild in rural woodlots and shelter belts are likely naturalized from these plantings. Honey Locust is tolerant of a wide range of both wetter and drier sites and there are many cultivars of this species, selected on foliage color (red and yellow), male trees that produce no fruit and well as lacking thorns (var. inermis). Its form can be widely variable as well, growing tall and round topped with ascending branches or often with lower spreading branches on limbs that have diverged from the trunk, low on the tree. The only tree it might be confused with is the Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia). It however has only once compound leaves with leaflets that are larger and more oval with round tips, its thorns are short spines, about ¾ inch long in pairs at the nodes, the flowers are large showy clusters of white pea-like blossoms and its bean pod is much smaller, only 3 to 4 inches long and not twisted.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken at numerous urban locations in the Twin Cities Metro area, a Washington County shelterbelt, and in Illinois.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Carla - South Minneapolis residential back yard
on: 2016-07-28 17:40:01

Is it invasive?! We have many growing in the backyard of the home that was my grandmothers and now my sister lives here. The thorns are very sharp, and they come back very hardy after we go through and cut them back. She allowed one to grow and now it is over 10 feet high or taller. I am just curious if we need to continue to cut them down, or if they are a beneficial tree?

Posted by: Jaden - Annandale
on: 2017-09-22 14:31:29

No it is not it is a native species.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2017-09-22 19:43:54

Jaden, yes honey locust is native.

Posted by: Jody Purrington - Duluth
on: 2018-06-15 19:14:58

There's a largish group of these I pass on my daily walk in Duluth. They are growing wild on a rocky hillside.

Posted by: Peter Ownbey - Washington County
on: 2023-02-07 18:06:20

I occasionally see these growing in open fields. They're easier to spot in winter, as the giant, twisty pods are visible from quite far away.

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