Best grown in organically rich, moist, well-drained soils in full sun. Tolerant of a wide range of soils. Also tolerant of wind, high summer heat, drought and saline conditions.
Honey locust is native from Pennsylvania to Iowa south to Georgia and Texas. It typically grows 60-80’ (less frequently to 120’) tall with a rounded spreading crown. Trunk and branches have stout thorns (to 3” long) that are solitary or three-branched. Pinnate to bipinnate yellow green leaves with ovate leaflets (1/2” to 1 1/2” long). Pinnate leaves have 10-15 pairs of leaflets and bipinnate leaves have 4-7 pairs of pinnae. Feathery leaves cast a sun-dappled shade. Leaves turn yellow in fall, but sometime drop off early without providing any significant fall color display. Greenish yellow to greenish white flowers appear in racemes in late spring (May-June in St. Louis). Flowers are followed by long, twisted and flattened, dark purplish-brown seedpods (to 18” long) which mature in late summer and persist well into winter. Seedpods contain, in addition to seeds, a sweet gummy substance that gives honey locust its common name. Specific epithet comes from the Greek acantha (thorn) and tri (three) in reference to the three-branched thorns. Species plants are generally not sold in commerce. Thornless varieties and cultivars that produce few if any seedpods are the preferred plants (e.g., Gleditsia triacanthos f. inermis). Genus name honors Johann Gottlieb Gleditsch (1714-1786), medical doctor and one-time Director of the Berlin Botanical Garden,
Honey locust is susceptible to a large number of potential disease problems, including leaf spot, canker, witches’ broom, powdery mildew and rust. Borers and webworms are common insect problems in some areas. Leaflets are too small to rake, which is good, but seed pods are unattractive on the tree and messy when they fall. Thorns on species plants can be just plain nasty.
The species is not recommended for landscape usage due to its numerous thorns. Thornless/seedless varieties and cultivars are recommended for lawns and sometimes as street trees.