Desert Ironwood Tree (Olneya Tesota)

Palo Fierro

Say hello to the desert ironwood tree. If you are a resident of Tucson, you've probably already been acquainted with this exclusively Sonoran Desert dweller. Known for its uniquely dense wood and abundant spring blooms, the Ironwood is a crucial and attractive member of the Sonoran Desert botanical family.

The ironwood is a keystone species and a nurse plant, benefiting flora and fauna alike.  Its canopy provides shade (temperatures diminishing as much as 15 degrees Fahrenheit under an adult tree), its seed pods and flowers provide food,  and its roots have nitrogen producing nodules increasing the level of this vital element in surrounding soil, thus aiding in the germination process of nearby foliage. 

Ironwood trees are slow growers, they can live to be over 800 years of age and reach heights over 30 feet. The bark of an ironwood, in its youth, is smooth and shiny, but cracks and dulls with age. Despite the fact that its handsome smoke gray leaves shed after each spring blossom, its considered an evergreen, new leaves grow as the old fall. The lavender hued blossoms usually reveal themselves during the months of May and June, but thrive in abundance only 4 years out of 10. More facts about the ironwood can be found on the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum website. 


Delicious Beauty

Both the flowers and seed pods of the Ironwood are edible. The flowers can be used to illuminate a salad, or candied for a sweet treat. The fresh seed pods can be prepared and eaten similar to edamame and have a peanut like taste. The dried seeds of the tree can also be consumed - either roasted or sprouted. More information on how to cook ironwood seed pods, as well as a plethora of other desert plants, can be found on the Desert Harvesters website.

Knife created by  @billippknives  

Knife created by @billippknives 

Cut For Strength

True to its name, the ironwood is most commonly known for its strength. Incredibly dense, it's wood will sink if placed in water. A dead ironwood trunk is virtually non-biodegrade, it contains harsh chemicals that make it adverse to rot, the dead wood endures upwards of 1600 years. 

As a result of the wood's strength and beauty, it's value is great, carved to create animal figures or used as a base for craft tools. Additionally, when burned, the resulting flames are exceptionally hot, a valuable commodity in a place where firewood is scarce. 

Despite these alluring attributes, the Ironwood is far too beneficial to the desert from which it hails to be taken out of it. The tree is not yet endangered, but its numbers decrease yearly. 


Surround Yourself

The ironwood is in bloom now! If you'd like to see these spectacular trees aplenty take a drive down Cortaro Farms Road. Cortaro (meaning "to cut" in Spanish) Farms Road is where the Spaniards harvested firewood, mainly ironwood.   

Ironwoods are an excellent installation choice for your home landscape. With proper placement and earthworks, these trees require little attention, and will benefit neighboring plants.

Contact us at Green Cloud to start a landscape design you'll love that includes ironwood, along with a wide variety of other edible and native plants.