Honey Locust

Geographical Distribution

The wood most commonly known and sold as Honey Locust comes from the tree known botanically as Gleditsia triacanthos.

G. triacanthos is a native of the eastern areas of the United States. More specifically, G. triacanthos is found scattered in the East-Central United States from central Pennsylvania westward to southeastern South Dakota, south to central and southeastern Texas, east to southern Alabama, then northeasterly through Alabama to western Maryland. Outlying populations of the species may be found in northwestern Florida, west Texas, and west-central Oklahoma.  It is naturalized east to the Appalachian Mountains from South Carolina north to Pennsylvania, New York, and New England.  G. triacanthos attains its maximum development in the valleys of small streams in southern Indiana and Illinois.

However, despite this native range, the tree has been used extensively as a wind break and for erosion control throughout most of the United States and in parts of Canada.  The seed pods are frequently foraged by grazing animals which disperse the seeds naturally through their droppings.  The aggressive growth nature of the tree coupled with its tolerance for varying soil types and drought has caused it become invasive in some areas; most notably the tree is highly invasive in Australia.

Honey Locust 8

Reverse of Small Honey Locust Bowl

At this time, the United States Department of Agriculture data show G. triacanthos occurring in all 48 lower states, except Washington and Oregon, as well as in Ontario, Canada.  Other data sources indicate that G. triacanthos is found in both Oregon and Washington state, at least as ornamental specimens.

The decimation of Elm (Ulmus sp.) shade trees has caused some locations to plant thornless hybrids of G. triacanthos as replacements, a decision some locations may come to regret as the trees spread beyond intended boundaries.  Householders may also plant these trees, widely sold in nursery stock, as shade or ornamental trees well outside their native range.  Trees harvested for wood trades are usually taken from areas where the tree is native and grows wild.

For the sake of simplicity and common understanding, from this point forward I will refer to G. triacanthos as Honey Locust, although other common names, such as Sweet Locust or Thorny Locust may be in use in some areas.

Small Honey Locust Bowl

Small Honey Locust Bowl

General Characteristics

The heartwood of the Honey Locust is most commonly a medium to light reddish brown.  The wide sapwood of the Honey Locust is typically a light yellow.  This sapwood is clearly demarcated from the heartwood and the sapwood is commonly used in timber applications as well as the heartwood.

Overall, the appearance of Honey Locust wood is quite similar to that of Gymnocladus dioicus (Kentucky Coffeetree).

The grain of the Honey Locust wood is most often straight although on occasion it can be slightly irregular.  The texture is medium and uneven although the wood does display at least a moderate luster when well surfaced.

Interior of Small Honey Locust Bowl

Interior of Small Honey Locust Bowl

Honey Locust endgrain features pores in a ring pattern with reddish heartwood deposits occasionally present.

Honey Locust is rated as durable to moderately durable in terms of resistance to rot fungus although the wood remains susceptible to insect attacks.

Working Characteristics

While Honey Locust wood is attractive and occasionally colorful, it can be considered difficult to work with both hand and machine powered tools on account of its density, which is slightly above both red and white oaks (Quercus sp).  However, for those with the patience to work with a dense wood, Honey Locust generally produces good results.

Three Small Honey Locust Vessels

Three Small Honey Locust Vessels