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Locust's or Robinia's { Study of Trees} 17

Updated on August 3, 2015

Locust or Robinia tree



The Robinia also referred to as the Locust tree is the seventeenth in the series a study of trees. in this series it is the intention of aiding those who wish to identify trees but are unsure of the species. For most people the identification of trees commences with recognizing the form and colour of the tree's foliage. This is fine during the summer months {or evergreen trees} but od little use during the winter months when the branches are naked and bare. However, all trees have a characteristic{s} which will help the observant to recognize the species even in the depths of winter.

Here we review the Locust tree and its close allies and with the aid of descriptive text and fine images it is hoped that identification of the tree will be made easier. We commence with a little background a historical information.

Young Locust tree



Loudon speaks of this mountain  range see Background and historical information
Loudon speaks of this mountain range see Background and historical information | Source

Courtesy of wvoutdoorman

Background and historical information

The trees belong to the order of trees known as the Fabales and the family Fabiaceae within that family. [ Formerly called Leguminosa} the Pea and Bean family.

They are deciduous trees of North America,where one of the species is highly valued for its timber. In Europe where they have been introduced they are prized for their beauty. They are readily propagated from seed,large truncheons of the stem and branches, cuttings of the root or by grafting, and they will grow in any soil that it not to wet. The roots are creeping and their branches very brittle. They grow rapidly,but are not generally long-lived.

Their rapid growth is a property that they have in common with all the trees whose principle roots of which extend themselves close under the surface,because the soil is always richest there. However, this which causes the tree to grow rapidly at first,occasions the tree to grow slowly afterwards,unless the roots are afforded ample space on every side,since they never penetrate deep, they soon exhaust all the goodness in the soil within their reach.

For this reason ,also, they were considered unsuitable as hedgerow trees or as scattered groups on arable land. Their roots caused great problems for the blades of the plough,and the suckers thrown up by them choking the corn crops. Conversely roots that grow perpendiculalry as well as horizontally, belong to those slowly ,but, more steadily growing trees which attain greater size in proportion to the extent of the ground they occupy.

The trees and several of its varieties,in the garden of the Horticultural Society,and in the Arboretum of Messrs Loddiges,attained the height of thirty feet + in ten years.from the time they were planted. Cobbett and Wither's,record instances of much more rapid growth. In Wither's Treatice {page 254} mention is made of nine hundred plants placed four feet apart in 1824,which in 1828 had reached a height of thirteen plus,and were to be cut down and used as Hop-poles.

According to Loudon's Arboretum et Fruticetum Britannicum { 1854} " In North America, the Locust tree,as it is there called, begins to grow naturally in Pennsylvania between Lancaster and Harrisburgh, in the Latitude of forty degrees,west of Alleghanies, it is found two to three degrees further north, because on the west side of these mountains, the climate is milder,and the soil more fertile than on the east of them.

" It is most abundant in the south west,abounding in the valleys between the chains of the Alleghany mountains,particularly in Limestone valley. It is a common in all western states between Ohio, the Illinois, the Lakes and the Mississippi. It is plentiful in upper Canada and also in lower Canada but is not found in the states east of the river Delaware nor does it grow spontaneously in the maritime part of the middle and southern states, to the distance of fifty to one hundred miles from the sea.

" It is planted however, in that region for purposes of both utility and as an ornamental. It is observed by Michaux, that the locust forms a smaller proportion of the American forests than oaks and walnuts,and that it is nowhere found occupying tracts,even of a few acres exclusively. Hence the tree, where it is met with is frequently spared by settlers,as being ornamental and somewhat rare, in the same manner as the black walnut it is frequently spared for the same reasons and its fruits. Hence also, old specimens of these two trees,which have belonged to the aboriginal forests,are frequently seen growing in the midst of cultivated fields."

There was ,perhaps no American tree respecting which so much has been said and done in Europe than the Locust. It was one of the first trees that we received from America,and it was more extensively propagated than any other, both in France and England. It has since been alternatively neglected and extolled in both countries.

The seeds of this tree,it is stated in Martyn's 'Miller' {1800's} and most other British works,were first sent to Europe to Jean Robinia, gardener to Henry IV of France in 1601, but according to Deleuze,and also to Adanson, in the article Acacia,in the French Encyclopoedia , the Locust was sent from America to Vespasian Robin { son of Jean Robin} who was the Arborist to Louis XIII, and was planted by him in the Jardin des Plantes in 1635.

The earliest notice of the Robinia in England is that in Parkinson's 'Theatre of Plants' .Evelyn in his first addition of the 'Sylva' published in 1664,states, " The French have lately brought in the Virginia Acacia, "which exceedingly adorns their walks". In his later edition 1706, Evelyn speaks of two Acacias, the Gleditschia and the False Acacia " Both of which : he says deserve a place among the avenue trees and love to be planted among moist ground.

Bark of Robinia


Wood of the Black locust tree


Locust Tree Robinia psuedoacacia

This species is also referred to as the Black Locust Tree,less commonly as the Japanese flowering Poplar and in the past it was referred to as the False Acacia. It is a native to south eastern United States but has been widely planted and naturalized elsewhere in the USA. It has also been planted in Europe,Southern Africa and Asia.


Although in its native localities the tree may attain the height of 70-80 feet with a diameter of 2-3 feet, it is seldom found there with a straight clean trunk. It is a much branched tree, with branches,as well as the trunk somewhat twisted. the branches have a general tendency upwards when the tree is young, but as it gets older they spread out horizontally. They are armed with strong hooked prickly prickles and not with spines or ligneous thorns. The former being attached to the bark, like the prickles of the common Rose or the Bramble,and the latter proceeding from the wood ,like the spines of the Hawthorn.

The bark is dark grey with hints of red, it is deeply furrowed,with a surface that is induced to scale. the young shoots are at first coated with a white silvery down which is short lived and they become pale green,then a reddish brown On young trees the bark is relatively smooth for the first fifteen years or so. The trunk of the young tree is armed with formidable prickles which disappear as it grows older. In some varieties these prickles are lacking even in young trees.

Leaf of the Black Locust tree


Leaves and flowers

The leaves of Robinia are composite, the leaflets being stalk-less,with eight to ten or even twelve leaflets arranged opposite to each other. The texture of the leaf is so fine and their surface so smooth that the dust that falls on them will hardly lie. This makes the tree a particularly good species for planting along roadsides and in the neighbourhood of towns.The leaves can attain the length of between twenty one and forty inches long, the leaflets one to two inches long and approximately half to three quarters of an inch broad.

At the first opening the leaves are a yellow green colour covered by a silvery down which soon disappears. When full grown they are dark green above and paler beneath.the mid-vein is prominent. In autumn they turn a clear pale yellow.

The flowers are arranged in pendulous bunches {loose drooping racemes} and are white or yellowish,and most agreeably fragrant.They appear in May after the leaves have unfurled. The pendulous bunches are from four to five inches long.The stalk ,slender half an inch long,dark red or reddish-green. The pea-like flowers consist of standard,wing and keel petals,the standard petals being white with a pale yellow blotch, the wing petals are white and the keel petals incurved and untied below.

They are succeeded by narrow legumes about three inches long each containing five to six seeds,which are commonly brown,but sometimes blackish.

Close up of blossoms

Taken at Federal City Road, in Lawrence Town New Jersey
Taken at Federal City Road, in Lawrence Town New Jersey | Source

Tree in autumn foliage


Legumes or seed pods of the Locust tree


Robinia hispida

This species is also referred to as the bristly Locust,Rose -acacia or Moss locust and is merely a shrub,native to south eastern USA. It has been introduced elsewhere as an ornamental and has naturalized from garden escapes.

This species and its different varieties,are shrubs or low growing trees with tortuous, brittle branches. The leaves and flowers are almost twice the size of the former species under review. The leaflets are obvate,they have no spines, the branches and legumes {seed pods} are hispid.

It was introduced into British gardens in 1758 and produces beautiful flowers from June often continuing until October. At that time they were regarded as a singular ornamental shrub s for gardens, but, it was advised-----

" As standard s or bushes, they can be only planted with safety in the most sheltered situations. A very good mode,is to train them against an espalier rail,and, on a lawn this espalier may form so kind of regular or symmetrical figure. Robinia hispida is often grafted one foot above the surface of the ground,and when the plant is not trained to a wall or some kind of support,it is almost certain,after it has grown for two to three years, to be broken over at the graft"

Plants in London nurseries of this species and all its varieties were sold at one shilling and sixpence each,except Robinia hispida macrophylla which were two shillings and six pence each. At New York, plants were sold at thirty seven and a half cents each.

The beautiful flowers of Robinia hispida

Transferred to Commons by Abala
Transferred to Commons by Abala | Source


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Deb,thank you too, for such encouraging comments,they are really appreciated. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      This was beautifully done with so much information. Your photos of choice were also excellent.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hello Devika , you are so encouraging,and your comments so kind it only serves to inspire me, thank you, and for all your votes much appreciated. Best wishes to you..

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Beautiful as ever! The photos are incredible and your style of writing always holds my attention. Voted up, interesting, useful and beautiful.


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