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Summer Belongs to the Black Locust

Summer Belongs to the Black Locust

old black locust trees in bloom

Black locust trees anchor my house. They are a much a part of its history as the wavy glass windows and half-wrap porch. Even in a photo taken in 1900, they were relatively large trees.  Where three once stood, there are now two. A large weathered stump tells the tale of a sapling’s fate—its robust nature ill-suited for a spot so close to the house.

When I moved into the house five Mays ago, I was surprised to see the locust trees bare, massive limbs exposed and skeletal while the surrounding trees were drenched in spring green. Weeks later, they made a late entrance that was well worth the wait, unfurling lacey leaves positioned below racemes seemingly stolen from the wisteria. Their fragrant white petals rode the wind when spent–a flurry that lasted for weeks and a scene too dreamy for me to grouse about clogged gutters.

close-up black locust flowers 

At the peak of bloom, and at sun’s first light, the tree began to hum, like a pulsing current of energy.  It took a while for me to understand what I was hearing and where it was coming from. (Heavy-breathing bulldogs tend to drowned out decibel levels just shy of an operating jet engine or stone crusher.) Walking toward the din of activity, I discovered that every bee on the island–bumble, honey or otherwise–was scurrying for position at this inviting nectar bar.  Locust trees must possess the most delicious nectar around because the bees were focused, frantic and loud, uninterested in anything other than what was before them (much like me at a Sunday brunch).

I’d have to say my other favorite, the madrona tree, belongs to fall and winter. When the days are short and the light fleeting, the tree commands your attention. But when the sun is high, the breeze cooling and the daylight without end, there is no finer place to reflect the day (or place a hammock) than beneath the furrowed  branches of the black locust tree, especially if a kind soul planted a few for you 120 years ago.

two black locust trees and a hammock

Related links: Robinia pseudoacacia, a time to plant – and a time to wait


  1. Wow, I had heard they were short-lived trees. I’m so happy to see your beautiful old hammock-holders. We have a fringe of black locusts along the river here that are about thirty years old. They come on so late compared to other trees, but I heard lore about not planting out the Mediterraneans in the garden until the locusts bloomed. I waited it out. It was pleasant working with that perfume on the breeze.

  2. True June, I had always thought they were short-lived as well, but here on the island there are some mighty old relics to disprove that idea. I really enjoyed your blog about putting the tomatoes out when the locust are in bloom; it makes sense in our respective cool climates.

  3. I’m just now healing up from an afternoon clearing Honey Locust from around an old barn out at the farm. I guess the Black and the Honey are related. The legumes produced as seeds are poisonous on the Black where those of the Honey locust are favored by animals and in the past humans. In fact, all but the blooms are toxic on the Black. Here in Texas the Honey Locust is very fast growing tree covered in stout thorns. The Indians used them for sewing animal hides. The animals ingest the beans (and leaves) and deposit them all over, if you know what I mean. Where the the grass is not shredded the trees flourish thus, the inundation around the barns. Interesting fact, the roots of both trees harbor nitrogen producing bacteria allowing these trees to grow in very poor soil. These trees are also highly prized by bee keepers, as you may imagine. I’ll be using some of the wood for working. A misunderstood and valuable tree.

  4. So true, my friend. The black locust does have down sides, the toxicity of its leaves and beans is much like the black walnut, with other plants struggling to survive beneath it. Here on Vashon they create natural groves and spread easily. While not my favorite tree, it’s one that may be irksome as teenager or young adult, but as a senior citizen it secures my respect and admiration.

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