Gleditsia triachantus var. inermis L. (Zab.)

Fabaceae – Bean Family

Cherokee: Kalasetsi
English: Thornless honeylocust

Natural History

Honeylocust is an occasional member of deciduous forests extending from the eastern Plains, through the southern Midwest and southcentral US north to Pennsylvania along the west side of the Appalachian Mts.  The typical form for which the specific epithet triacanthos refers has large three-pointed spines along the stem.  The horticultural form we have on campus, var. inermis, or unarmed, is the commonly planted form of this tree in urban settings.

Small flowers of Honeylocust bloom in the spring and by summer give rise to elongated beans which often curl as they dry to a brownish color. Some of our trees on campus do produce fruits with trees between 25 and 75 years being the most productive.  The fruits provide a food source for a variety of mammals ranging from squirrels to deer and hares.  Bees are attracted to the small flowers during the short flowering season.

Human history and use

The common name Honeylocust comes from the fruits which are slightly sweet and are known to attract livestock and have been used by people as a food source and a source of sugar. As a food it is relatively nutritious containing up to about 20% protein, 4% fat, and 85% carbohydrate. For the Cherokee peoples Honeylocust was one of the principal sweetener sources. 

Medicinally the fruits have used in a tea for indigestion and measles and the fresh juice from the fruit shows antiseptic properties. Vegetative portions of the plants do contain alkaloid compounds including gleditschine and stenocarpine which can be toxic and some research has investigated these compounds for cancer treatment.

The wood of Honeylocust is quite hard and fine grained and desirable for woodworking although it is not widely used. It is particularly useful for fence posts and was known to be used to craft weapons and game sticks due to its durability.

Horticulturally the spineless variety of Honeylocust is widely planted as a shade tree across North America due to its adaptability to a variety of environments.  It has also been introduced to parts of central and southern Europe.


Burns, R. M., and B. H. Honkala, tech. coords. 1990. Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods. Agriculture Handbook 654. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC.

Foster. S. and J. A. Duke. 1990. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants. Eastern and Central North America. Houghton Mifflin Co.

Moerman DE. 1998. Native American Ethnobotany. Portland, OR: Timber Press.

Taylor L.A. 1940. Plants Used as Curative by Certain Southeastern Tribes. Botanical Museum of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.