Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Mesquite pods

with 29 comments

While on the Blackland Prairie in northeast Austin on August 24th I spent time at a mesquite tree, Prosopis glandulosa, whose many pods caught my attention. Indian tribes in what is now Mexico and the southwestern United States used to grind the pods to make a sweet flour. In fact many places sell mesquite flour today. There’s even a Texas mesquite group on Instagram. And it isn’t just people who like mesquite: I noticed plenty of ants attracted to the pods, presumably due to their sweetness.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 3, 2019 at 4:42 AM

29 Responses

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  1. I can’t see a mesquite pod or hear them mentioned without remembering my darling pet squirrel, who got drunk on fermented pods that had been stashed in a closet and turned out to be a mean drunk.

    Even humans enjoy a South Texas version of home-brew, sometimes called atole by those who produce it. The same high sugar content that attracts the ants aids the fermentation process. The photo with the ant is especially pleasing. The ant is a nice addition, but the general shape and details of the pod are what attracts me.

    shoreacres

    September 3, 2019 at 8:00 AM

    • I first learned about atole half a century ago in Honduras. There are many kinds:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atole

      https://www.cooksinfo.com/atole

      It was the hole in the pod shown in the second photo that attracted me. The hole also made close-ups difficult because parts of its edges were at different distances from surface of the pod. That surface was itself wavy, and then there was the hook at the tip. All those things gave me a pretty bad depth of field problem and I ended up throwing away a lot of the pictures I took. In fact I took a lot of pictures precisely because I recognized that depth of field was a problem and I hoped at least a few pictures would turn out okay.

      A pet squirrel getting drunk on fermented mesquite pods makes for quite a story. I’m glad you wrote it up:

      https://shoreacres.wordpress.com/2011/03/28/a-taste-of-dandelion-wine/

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 3, 2019 at 12:31 PM

      • I haven’t joined Instagram and rarely visit the site, but I followed your link to the mesquite group and found a photo of a squirrel gnawing away on a mesquite pod posted there. Apparently squirrels find them tasty even prior to fermentation. I have a lot of funny squirrel stories, but Mr. Mean Drunk may be my favorite.

        I’ve been watching squirrels taste-testing the balls on the cypress trees, too. The ground beneath the trees is littered with rejects, and now I wonder if some creature was testing the single pod for ripeness, and left the hole behind.

        shoreacres

        September 3, 2019 at 6:38 PM

        • That’s a good hypothesis about the hole. Short of stumbling on an animal in flagrante delicto, I don’t know how to find out.

          Coincidentally, I photographed a bunch of bald cypress fruits this morning. A few seemed to have been coated with or to have exuded a wet substance. I wonder if it could have been fermentation.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 3, 2019 at 8:22 PM

  2. Lovely image of something I don’t see around here. Once I discovered I do better when I avoid gluten, I’ve been amazed at all the delicious alternatives there are. Knowing how much better they are for us, it is baffling how attached we are to wheat.

    melissabluefineart

    September 3, 2019 at 8:05 AM

    • You’re right: mesquite grows across the southwestern United States. It’s very common in Texas and can quickly populate an expanse of ground. The indigenous peoples here, not having wheat, did well to use the mesquite that was readily available.

      There’s a mill outside of Austin that is supposed to have mesquite flour for sale in a month or so, after the pods dry out. If I get some we’ll see what Eve can cook up.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 3, 2019 at 12:37 PM

      • I would love to hear what you think of it. I know that the native peoples here put cattails to good use, from eating the roots to using the leaves for all sorts of things to using the down to pad diapers. Now of course there are Pampers and our wetlands get overrun by cattails. Not an improvement.

        melissabluefineart

        September 4, 2019 at 10:41 AM

  3. I am not surprised these pods caught your attention. Their shape and colours are eye-catching. I would like to try the mesquite flour.

    Gallivanta

    September 3, 2019 at 8:16 AM

    • I just replied to Melissa’s comment by saying there’s a mill outside of Austin that is supposed to have mesquite flour for sale in a month or so, after the pods dry out. If we get some I’m eager to see what Eve can cook up.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 3, 2019 at 12:39 PM

  4. Another unknown fact comes to me from Texas. Great shots of the pods of the mesquite tree, Steve! I guess the native people took the seeds and ground them into flour. Or did they take the entire pods?

    Peter Klopp

    September 3, 2019 at 9:17 AM

    • There’s no reason you’d have known about these trees, given that they grow in the southwestern United States. They’re certainly common in Texas.

      My understanding is that people did and still do grind up the entire pod. I hope to get some mesquite flour in about a month so I can find out what it’s like.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 3, 2019 at 12:59 PM

  5. Beautiful, especially the detail. I will add myself to the list of people who knew next to nothing about Mesquite. My only use for it had been to add to charcoal. Must try the flour.

    Michael Scandling

    September 3, 2019 at 10:25 AM

  6. How interesting, Steve. I had not heard about mesquite flour before, but I am not surprised. Native peoples had to know about their environment and possible food sources–no grocery stores to buy supplies!

    tanjabrittonwriter

    September 3, 2019 at 5:44 PM

    • No, definitely no grocery stores: we have it easy today.

      The USDA map at https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=PRGL2 shows this species making it into two southeastern Colorado counties, so you might get to see mesquite pods for yourself.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 3, 2019 at 6:01 PM

      • Thank you, Steve. I know we have encountered mesquite in N.M. (minus the pods), but I don’t recall seeing it in CO. I will pay closer attention next time I am in the SE corner.

        tanjabrittonwriter

        September 3, 2019 at 6:53 PM

        • Seeing the pods requires encountering the trees in the right season. This is the time in central Texas; in Colorado the timing might be different.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 3, 2019 at 8:24 PM

  7. They look like they could be pods for pinto beans.

    Steve Gingold

    September 4, 2019 at 3:17 PM

    • Mesquite is in the same botanical family as the pinto bean, Fabaceae.
      I just learned that the kidney bean, navy bean, and pinto bean are all varieties of a single species, Phaseolus vulgaris. The Wijipedia article about that species says of its history:

      “The wild P. vulgaris is native to the Americas. It was originally believed that it had been domesticated separately in Mesoamerica and in the southern Andes region, giving the domesticated bean two gene pools. However, recent genetic analyses show that it was actually domesticated in Mesoamerica first, and traveled south, probably along with squash and maize (corn). The three Mesoamerican crops constitute the ‘Three Sisters’ central to indigenous North American agriculture.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 4, 2019 at 3:32 PM

  8. This was one species that I did not encounter on the trip to and from Oklahoma. I was told that they were in the flora that we could see off in the distance from the highway, but I never got close to one.

    tonytomeo

    September 10, 2019 at 9:04 AM

    • Then this can be another incentive to make a return trip to Oklahoma. Mesquite is quite a common tree in much of Texas.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 10, 2019 at 9:27 AM

      • I don’t need any more incentive than I already have. I SO want to go back.

        tonytomeo

        September 14, 2019 at 12:14 AM


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