July has always been a big month for birthdays in my family — my son Derek’s on the 9th, my father’s on the 12th, my daughter Ashley’s on the 22nd and my sister Dawn’s on the 26th. It seemed like we were constantly eating cake and ice cream during some of the hottest weeks of the summer.
During the heat of this summer, with a severe drought upon our area, the coolness of shade from stately trees can be one of the greatest gifts of relief and a place of contentment under their leafy canopies.
One of my favorite shade trees that are also particularly tolerant of dry, droughty conditions is the Thornless Honeylocust. Botanically known as Gleditsia triacanthos inermis, the Thornless Honeylocust, despite its name, is not a major honey-producing tree but rather is named for its seedpod’s sweet tasting pulp. Thornless Honeylocust trees have white fragrant blooms that flower late in spring and are gracefully spaced on its stems. Birds love to nest in their protective branches of the Thornless Honeylocust and eat the seedpods.
The flowering begins when the tree reaches 7 to 8 feet in height and the beautiful fern-like, medium green leaves appear with the fragrant blooms. The leaves of the Thornless Honeylocust tree are tiny and provide a wonderful filtered shade during hot sunny days. During the fall, the tree’s foliage turns into a spectacular brilliant yellow color. The leaves are so tiny that they allow enough sunshine to pass through the canopy that grass can easily grow beneath the tree, which makes it a favorite shade tree for gardeners who like manicured lawns.
When the golden leaves fall during the late autumn they disappear into the grass and require no raking — unlike most deciduous shade trees. The tree is cold hardy and can grow extremely well in El Dorado County. In El Dorado Hills, healthy specimen Thornless Honeylocust trees can be found in and along many of the Community Park’s parking lots. Since the Honeylocust tree is a legume, it builds nitrogen in the soil by the action of nitrogen fixing bacteria in the roots, enriching your soil with free nitrogen fertilizer. The Thornless Honeylocust tree is a fast-growing flowering shade tree that can reach 60 to 100 feet in height and would make a perfect birthday gift for friends and family!
Brent Dennis, a landscape architect and garden designer, is general manager of the El Dorado Hills Community Services District.