Honey Locust and Robinia

Written by lori norris
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Honey Locust and Robinia
Locust and honey locust are similar but distinct trees. (Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images)

Honey Locust (Gleditsia spp.) and Locust (Robinia spp.) are two different genera that are closely related. Both are in the pea family, and have compound leaves and fruits that look like pea pods. These fruits are poisonous on the locust, while they're edible on the honey locust. They grow in the same climate conditions. While they have many similarities, they are very different in other ways. The flowers on the locust are in long, white, fragrant racemes, although some hybrids offer different colours. The honey locust is not known for its rather inconspicuous flowers but rather for its bright foliage. There are several good varieties of both locust and honey locust on the market.

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Flowers

Honey locusts aren't known for their flowers, but they do have small white flowers on small hanging spikes, and they aren't particularly attractive. The locusts, however, have showy flowers. Most species are white, but some species and cultivars have pink or purple flowers. The species R. viscosa and R. hispida, native to the Appalachians, both have pink flowers. "Purple Robe" has purplish-pink flowers, and "Pink Cascade" has lilac-pink flowers that look similar to wisteria flowers.

Leaves

Although honey locusts are usually the ones stealing the show with beautiful foliage, the "Frisia" and "Gold Nugget" varieties of locust (Robinia) have bright green to golden foliage. The honey locusts, however, have many varieties with beautiful foliage. "Spectrum" and "Sunburst" have foliage that emerges yellow, then fades to green. "Spectrum" reportedly retains the gold colour longer. "Lime Gold" has leaves that emerge light green. They all have an interesting bicolor effect in early summer. "Ruby Lace" has unusual deep maroon foliage.

Growth Habit

Honey locusts grow as wide as they do tall; the mature height is usually around 40 feet. There are varieties that grow a bit differently, such as "Shademaster," which is taller than it is wide. There's a weeping form called "Emerald Kaskade," which seldom grows beyond 6 feet tall. The locust can get to be 70 feet tall and is narrower than it is wide. There is a weeping variety called "Pendula" and an interesting one called "Twisty Baby" with contorted branches.

Thorns

Gleditsia triacanthos has long, sharp thorns. However, most cultivated honey locusts are a variety of Gleditsia tiacanthos inermis, which is thornless. Robinia has thorns at the base of the leaf and can irritate the skin if skin is scratched. "Bessoniana" and "Inermis" are varieties that don't have thorns.

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