In Praise of Black Locust

All over Kentucky, there is an explosion of the amazing white flowers of black locust, Robinia pseudoacacia. This is a tree that is both loved and hated. While it is in flower, I thought we’d take a few moments to talk about the virtues and sins of black locust.

Here are the things we love about black locust:

  • We love its flowers. Everyone in black locust country raves about the beautiful white clouds of flowers and the intense, sweet fragrance. I personally think it is the best-smelling flower of all.
  • Bees love its flowers. Beekeepers usually allow clover and locust honey to be mixed. However, in years when locust flowers before clover, it is possible to harvest a large quantity of the palest, clear, intensely sweet honey ever.  The years when I have been able to keep the locust honey flow separate from the clover have been my favorite beekeeping years.
  • Black locust is a nitrogen-fixing pioneer tree on disturbed sites. It will colonize cut banks, abandoned coal mines and other very poor sites and enrich the soil for other species.
  • For early settlers, it was a tremendously important timber source for masts, tool handles and fences. The hard, decay-resistant wood was prized.
  • Black locust is now the most widely planted North American tree in the world. It has been planted all over Europe, temperate Asia and southern Africa. It is used for livestock fencing, fuel and tool handles.

Here are the things we hate about black locust:

  • Black locust is impossible to get rid of. If we cut down a tree in our yard, sprouts will come up for decades.
  • It takes over pastures very quickly and is hard to control.
  • The sharp little spines hurt!  I got one buried in my head while clearing fields in North Carolina when I was a kid and I still have a little bump in my head.
  • It is invasive. Black locust is regarded as a nuisance or invasive tree on every continent except Antarctica.



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