Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Honey Locust Thorn Tree

Common Thorn Tree
Species: Gleditsia triacanthos
Risk: Approach with Caution, Partially Edible

The Honey Locust is a common sight in Missouri. This tree should be passed carefully as its entire body, from the trunk to the tips of its branches, is covered in thorns. These thorns can grow anywhere from three to eight inches long and often grow in clusters. Neither the tree nor its thorns carry any harmful poison or toxin.  

The leaves of the Honey Locust are doubly compound, meaning they sprout off of a single stem in parallel leaflets. The branches on which they sprout are also covered in thorns. The leaves are safe to touch, although you risk a few pokes should you feel the need to do so. 

The only edible part of this tree is the pulp inside the seed pods. The pods fully mature in early Fall. When ripe, the long seed pods become dark brown and begin falling from the tree. Although the seed pods contain edible pulp, these should only be gathered when absolutely necessary.

Careful identification and avoidance of this tree could save you a few nasty pokes. Old and dead branches have a tendency to fall off or be ripped from the tree by the wind. These fallen branches can present a hazard to hikers unaware of their proximity to the Honey Locust. These thorns can puncture shoes and possibly deliver a deep wound. Avoidance is the best policy.

Although the edible seed pods are only available during Autumn, the tree itself remains useful year round. The wood itself is quite sturdy and resistant to rot. The dense canopy under the tree can be used as protection from the sun, provided having dealt with the issue of the thorns. The thorns themselves are possibly the most useful part of the Honey Locust. The thorns have been used as fish hooks, spear heads, nails, sewing needles and small game traps. Gather with caution.


  1. Quite a few internet commentators say the thorns are poisonous. I agree. This is day 2 for me after getting very lightly poked in the wrist by one. Pain is comparable to a broken bone. Moderate swelling but immense pain. It wasn't even noticeable till approx 6-7 hours later.

  2. Puncture wounds are notoriously painful regardless of the medium that creates the wound. These thorns are NOT poisonous that is a medical/scientific fact, however often the honey locust thorns are covered with a layer of particulates including dirt, dust, pollen and other matter and getting all that in the wound increases the inflammation, the risk of infection and obviously the level of pain goes up with foreign bodies in the would in your tissue. My property is covered with these damned trees, I have been stuck, stabbed and poked more times than I care to remember. For the minor pokes I experience a lot of itching and the deeper the puncture is the more painful it is. Apply peroxide, clean out as best you can, use antibiotic ointment and if it doesn't resolve, if it swells or you see red warm skin around it seek medical attention as soon as possible.

    1. If that is true, then why do blackberry stickers not cause the same pain, redness and swelling. I think that debunks your theory! Also, the immense pain can come as soon as an hour and a half.

  3. A Honey Locust thorn went through my tennis shoe and punctured the ball of my foot in the spring of 2013. Thought it would work its way out. Boy was I wrong. By July, it felt like I was walking on a marble. I waited till October to get it checked out by a Dr. The tip of that thorn worked all the way to the bone of my toe and formed a cyst around it. After waiting till after hunting season, I had surgery mid December to remove the cyst that formed around the microscopic tip of that dang Honey Locust thorn. The cyst looked like it was sprinkled with pepper. Two months recovery and now 6 weeks of upcoming physical therapy to reduce the scar.
    Bottom line... Watch out for Honey Locust thorns and remove them immediately if you get stuck by one. Even thorns many years dead are dangerous.

  4. I have been punctured or scratched many of times from this tree. I have them on my land, they are not poisonous just painful. Unless you have an allergy of some sort to it.

    1. There may be an irratant - I'm guessing it works like poison ivy and me be dust or pollen from the tree.

      some scouts i was with, clearing a trail, took pokes and scatches. a couple were obviously more that the wound itself should have been (swelling/iching).

  5. I have been punctured or scratched many of times from this tree. I have them on my land, they are not poisonous just painful. Unless you have an allergy of some sort to it.

  6. I was poked and scratched a lot with no issues. But, when a branch fell I had a thorn at least an inch in my wrist. It swelled a lot and I pushed on it and a dark milky puss came out. I kept it as clean as possible with Peroxide etc. As I squeezed on it the next days it turned white then clear and swelling went down. I think it takes a long time to heal because of bacteria, fungal spores and foreign particulates. Our immune systems can handle it, its not like venom. I think the puss was white blood cells merged to the area engulfing the junk.