One of the more curious plants to come across the cattle guard and through the gate at the Picket Post holding area is a mesquite from South America that masquerades as something quite different. It’s not a wolf in sheep’s clothing or the other way around, but it’s definitely the exception, not the rule. It’s called Prosopis kuntzei and its uniqueness is surely why H.B. Wallace chose it as part of his collection.
A typical legume fancier might stand in front of this tree and scratch his head in the same way a farmer would when he discovered a crop circle in the middle of his corn field.
“Just how in the world did that happen?”
To the lay person, there isn’t a compound leaf to be found, certainly nothing mesquite-like, until you look very closely inside the canopy of the tree. There, on a single branch are a couple of compound leaves about three inches long. The rest of the tree looks like one of the plants commonly referred to as a crucificion thorn, like Canotia holacantha that grows at higher elevations just a few dozen miles from this spot. And like Canotia, the branches are green and photosynthetic.
The branches are as sharp as kebob skewers and any one of them look like they could penetrate one of your eyeballs and continue half way into your brain. The guys that helped move this particular box into position did not have many good things to say about it.
According to www.inaturalist.org, it does have leaves in the spring, but even the shoots that support the leaves become spines and add to the multi-branched tangle of dangerous points to avoid. The flowers are yellow, and the racemes on which they are born are the only reminiscent botanical feature that resembles our own mesquites.
The tree is from the Gran Chaco in Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay, and if we can dig a large enough hole in surface bedrock that inhabits most of our South American exhibit, we might just plant it there this fall.