As a Locust grows, it begins like a small, thorny shrub. Twinned spikes growing from smooth bark catch your shirt as you move down traintrack trails and along forgotten alleys. See if you can spot a young Locust on your next adventure.
This tree is a Black Locust, like almost all Locusts growing in the city. On these trees, spikes disappear from the trunk and main branches as the tree ages. (Though smaller branches can give a tree climber a surprise!) Do you see any thorns on this old tree?
Honey Locusts are native to the southern-most parts of Ontario, having migrated that far north since the last big ice age. Three-inch spines cover its trunk in thick patches – protection from some ancient herbivore. They are much rarer, but can be found in Hamilton in places like Southam Park (at the top of the James St escarpment stairs) and beside the York St bridge.
Locust are a slender, graceful tree, lining city streets throughout the downtown. These urban plantings provide seed stock for Locusts to thrive in rewilding city edges, where their dense, thorny growth helps keep a fragile, healing land free of disturbance.
You can collect their seeds from late October into early Springtime, and with a treatment of boiling water and filing or grinding the hard seed coat, break the dormancy. Locust seeds can remain dormant for more than a decade. The patience of Locust seeds is part of the reason they are often among the first trees to emerge in re-wilding fields. Locust roots work with nitrogen fixing bacteria, doing important work to increase soil health and make disturbed sites suitable for other tree types to grow. Can you find a seed pod here?
Black Locusts are sometimes considered non-native weed trees. They come from Central Eastern parts of the united states. Do you think the migration of this tree through human planting, combined with a warming climate here, could be considered a continuation of its migration north? Do you think this tree should be considered undesirable? When do our definitions of pristine forest change to include new species?
This particular tree is deliciously old and tall – an excellent example of mature Locust bark. Take a good look and feel, then cross the road to find another four Locusts growing beside the church.