Honey Locust Tree: Thornless vs Thorny (& Why They Rank Above Black Locust)

Image of a honey locust tree in a green frame with an oval showing a thornless honey locust which is often mistaken for a thorny tree for honey locust identification and how to grow honey locust trees.

The Honey Locust tree, also known as the Thorny Honey locust or Thorny Locust, is a member of the Fabaceae family of trees native to North America.

This tree is a top choice for homeowners due to its ornamental value, often being preferred over the Black Locust tree, because it is easy to transplant, has a fast growth rate, and is flexible to live in various environments.

Both the thorn-less and thorny varieties are valued for these features, but there are some additional interesting facts about the Honey Locust tree that you may not know.

This complete guide outlines some of the ways to identify and care for a Honey Locust tree and offers tons of details and tree facts you should know before planting.10

Honey Locust

(Gleditsia triacanthos)

Honey Locust tree in oval frame on green background.
  • Family: Fabaceae
  • Genus: Gleditsia
  • Leaf: Green, compound, alternate, measuring more than 5-8 inches long
  • Bark: Dark brown/ gray, lenticular, with slightly scaly ridges
  • Seed: Oval, carried inside flattened bean pods
  • Blossoms: Gold or green, showy and fragrant
  • Fruit: Brownish/ reddish showy flowers measuring over 3 inches wide
  • Native Habitat: North America
  • Height: 65-100 Feet
  • Canopy: Grows fast to form a massive canopy of up to 80 feet wide
  • Type: Deciduous
  • Other Fact: The Honey Locust tree is distributed all around Canada (Ontario) and the United States (but absent in Oregon and Washington state)

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Ranking

Least Concern


Honey Locust Tree Identification

The Honey Locust tree can be simple to spot as long as you can identify the key features.

The following traits characterize these types of Locust trees.

Growth Habits

A fully grown mature tree can reach an average of 80 feet high and 30 inches in diameter.

When in their natural habitats, where the conditions are favorable, they can reach an impressive 150 feet and double the standard diameter.

Honey Locust tree identification chart showing Honey Locust tree leaves, Honey Locust tree flowers, Honey Locust tree fruit, and Honey Locust Tree bark images in circle frames on a green background.

The crown or canopy extends wide, reaching up to 30 feet, same to the roots, which can stretch 20 feet deep.

Honey Locust Leaves

The leaves of a Honey Locust tree are deciduous and grow in compound form with 3-6 leaflets on each side, with each leaf reaching 4-8 inches.11 They take a dark green shade, are shiny at the top, and have an oval shape, with each leaflet measuring 0.3-1.1 inches.

Honey Locust Tree Bark

The Honey Locust bark is one of the most conspicuous features of the tree. Like red berry tree identification, where you check for thorns on the stems, many know it as the tree with spikes on trunk thanks to the reddish thorns that reach 7.8 inches long and grow on the low branches.

The bark color ranges from dark to light or grayish-brownish, and those growing in non-native regions often have thorns throughout the tree.

Honey Locust Flowers Identification

The tree usually flowers between May and June based on the region’s climate, producing fragrant blooms.

They are greenish-yellow, grow in 2-5 inches long clumps, and are often the same sex, unless on special occasions where the flowers have both organs.

Honey Locust Fruits

The tree’s fruits are dark reddish brown and look like stripes or small belts, measuring 6-16 inches long and 1-1.4 inches wide when mature. The more they grow, the more they take a twisted shape, and each fruit contains several bean-shaped seeds.

Growth Range for Honey Locust Trees

The Honey Locust tree is common in the Eastern and Northern US and can survive extremely cold temperatures up to -30 degrees.

The tree must go dormant at the beginning of the year to live through the punishing winters.

It is also easily adaptable, can thrive during high heat levels, and grow in moist soils or drought regions.

Can You Grow Honey Locust Seeds?

You can grow a Honey Locust tree from the seeds or propagate it from shoot and root cuttings. For seeds, start by soaking them in water for a day until they swell up to thrice their original size before planting.

Also, remember that the best planting time is in spring.

Are Honey Locust Tree Seed Pods Edible?

One of the Honey Locust tree’s best features is its edible seed pods. When unripe, the pods have a sweet taste and a sticky feel, and when hard and ripe, you can ground them into flour.

It is a favorite food for livestock, and you can add it to their diet as a sweetener.

What Is the Honey Locust Tree Used For?

The following are some of the numerous Honey Locust uses.

  1. The Cherokee people were among the first to use the tree’s timber to create bows.
  2. The natives crushed the seeds and used them as sweeteners.
  3. The highly nutritious and sweet pods are popular food for livestock, like the Cashew tree.
  4. Its dense, shock-resistant wood is a favorite for various projects, from making fences, pallets and other creations.
  5. It makes excellent fuel, given how it easily splits.
  6. The fantastic and quality finish of the wood makes it ideal for furniture making.
  7. Wildlife also obtains food from the tree; herbivores like rabbits and deer eat the seeds, while bees love the flowers.
  8. The tree’s extracts help treat ailments like some cancers and arthritis.
  9. They have ornamental uses and are popular trees for their massive shade coverage. You will find them growing on sidewalks and parks.
  10. Farmers plant them as windbreakers and soil erosion controllers.
  11. Another use of the Honey Locust tree is that the thornless and seedless species are some of the top choices for landscaping.6

Features of the Thornless Honey Locust Tree: Thornless vs Thorny Honey Locust Trees

The horticultural industries successfully developed the Thornless Honey Locust tree; today, it is marketed as the better option for landscaping.

It pops up when looking for Honey Locust tree for sale because homeowners prefer theirs seedless and thornless.

It is safe in your yard because it doesn’t endanger children or pets and grows smooth branches and barks.

Like its parent breed, the species is also a fast grower, reaching more than 80 feet high and developing a wide shade or canopy cover, which is ideal for your backyard.1

Honey Locust tree showing its thornless trunk, branches and leaves in varying hues of green.

(Image: Billy Hathorn12)

The latter wins as the best landscaping tree in the war against the Thorny vs. Thornless Honey Locust trees.

Planting thornless cultivars means you don’t have to deal with long, sharp needles that can cause injuries, and there won’t be seeds that need racking up due to constantly falling off the tree.

However, note that the two share certain features; they are equally hardy and resilient to harsh conditions like drought and share other unique qualities given their close genetics.

Black Locust vs Honey Locust Thorns: Differences and Ranking

Anyone can easily confuse the Black Locust and Honey Locust Thorn trees because they have almost the same name and bear some similar physical features.

It only takes a keen eye to tell them apart, but generally, the Honey Locust is more famous among homeowners and ranks better as a landscaping tree.

Similarities Between the Black and Honey Locust Trees

There are some similarities between the Black Locust Tree and the Honey version.

  • The two come from the same family, the Fabaceae.
  • They hail from the same geographical region, the Northern parts of the United States. The Honey Locust grows in the wild all through North America except in Washington and Oregon, which only grow the Black Locust.
  • They bloom around the same time, between mid and late spring.
  • They grow into trees or shrubs.
  • They thrive best in hardiness zones 3 to 8 and enjoy growing under the full sun.
  • They are resistant to deer because of their sharp thorns; you can grow them near a Black Walnut.

Differences Between the Black and Honey Locust Trees

Some of the differences between the two trees include:

  • The Black Locust is scientifically known as Robinia Pseudoacacia (from the false Acacia tree), while the Honey Locust is called Gleditsia triacanthos.
  • The Honey Locust tree is a favorite because it grows taller and thicker than the Black Locust, reaching over 80 feet, compared to the latter’s 50 feet.
  • The Honey locust is usually a picky tree in soil type, preferring rich, moist grounds to thrive. However, the Black Locust can easily adapt to various soil types, whether salty, clay, or extremely dry.
  • The Black Locust is a more invasive species than the Honey Locust. Authorities in the Midwest deem it invasive due to its fast-growing and rapid reproducing tendencies.4

Many prefer the Honey Locust over the Black Locust because it grows bigger and with a wider canopy cover, making it perfect for landscaping and shading.8 Secondly, it is not invasive; you don’t have to worry about dealing with unwanted trees.

The Honey Locust is particularly popular in urban setups where there is an urgent need for shading trees because they grow extremely fast. You will find them in real estate developments, parks, sidewalks, and people’s homes.

The narrow varieties like the Northern Sentinels are also popular since they make excellent street trees that don’t grow too wide. Another impressive feature is that they can grow in various soil types, including alkaline, dry, and compacted soil, provided they obtain the necessary nutrients.

Additionally, they are famous for their resistance to pests like spongy moths and spider mites. Lastly, if you have reservations about the thorny species, you can always go for the thornless cultivars.

How To Grow a Honey Locust Tree

The Honey Locust tree is a perfect plant for your home if you are looking for a shade tree that is easy to plant, hardy, and low maintenance.

It is a favorite to plant in city setups thanks to its shade, and an advantage is that you don’t have to rake up the tiny leaves when they fall.

Below are the common topics and questions beginners ask before planting it.

How Long It Takes To Grow Honey Locust Tree

The tree is popular for its fast-growing nature from seedling to maturity.

Honey Locust tree growth chart on a line graph with Honey Locust tree age on the x-axis and Honey Locust tree height on the y-axis.
It can develop at 2 feet or more every year and reach a perfect size of over 80 feet high.

It takes 10-15 years to reach maturity when it is ready for harvesting.

When To Plant Honey Locust Tree for the Best Yield

Like many deciduous trees that undergo dormancy, the best time to plant a Honey Locust tree is between spring and early fall. This way, the seedlings or seeds will have more time to establish themselves and have better chances of growing bigger and taller.

Growing Zones for Honey Locust Tree Where To Grow

The Honey Locust thrives best under USDA hardiness zones 3-9, and you can successfully plant one if you live in these regions.

It is quite hardy and withstands harsh weather and environmental conditions, including drought, heat, soil alkalinity, air pollution, and other problems in urban or city setups.

You can also plant it if your soil is well draining and the region receives sufficient sunlight, but still, the plant can adjust to various conditions.

Best Companion Plants for Growing Honey Locust Tree

The tree is known for its nitrogen-fixing abilities and how it makes a perfect companion plant.7 Therefore, it is a fantastic option for trees like nuts and vegetables that need high amounts of nitrogen.

Thankfully, the pinnate leaves don’t completely shade plants in the under-story, making them great companions for shade-tolerant species like the hostas, Lenten Rose, and brunnera.

Other trees like sage, lilies, ferns, and merry bells are also great companions.

Growing Honey Locust Tree From a Seed

Starting with a bowl filled with hot water, soak the seeds for at least a day until they increase to about three times their size.

Remove them when ready and immediately plant them in soil ½ an inch deep, waiting for germination in less than four weeks.

You can expect a 20-40 cm growth in the first years, but the rate will keep increasing with time.2

Transplant the tree outdoors once it’s reached at least 2 feet in height.

Growing a Honey Locust Tree From a Cutting

Besides planting from seeds, you can also grow the Honey Locust from the root and shoot cuttings.

Carefully dig around the root and cut half an inch thick or use pruning shears to chop off suckers from the tree and plant them, watering and checking for new growth.

Growing Honey Locust Tree From a Seedling

Growing a Honey Locust tree from a seedling is another easier route than starting with seeds.

Honey Locust tree seedling situated on clay-rich soil.

(Image: Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz13)

You can buy one from a trusted local shop and plant it in your yard, caring for it until it’s independent.

Watering Needs for Honey Locust Plants

This tree is quite resilient to survive dry or moist soils, but saplings need a lot of water to grow healthy and strong, with deep roots.

You can water them weekly for the first year and reduce the amount the more it grows.

Since the tree has adapted to drought, you can keep the soil moist but not overwater.

How Far Apart To Plant Honey Locust Tree

Spacing is crucial for the trees because they have a massive canopy, and you don’t want them to overcrowd and compete for resources.

Placing them 20-30 feet apart is the safest way to go.

How Much Sunlight Does Honey Locust Tree Need Each Day?

The Honey Locust tree loves the full sun and needs at least 6 hours of sunlight daily.

While they can also grow under partial shade, you should provide at least two sunlight hours in the day.

Planting Tips for Honey Locust Tree

Here are some planting tips for Honey Locust tree:

  1. Ensure the tree receives at least 6 hours of sunlight daily, especially when young.
  2. It is not a water-hungry plant; you can irrigate it only once weekly.
  3. It thrives in hardiness zones 3-9 and will strain or die in any region with lower temperatures.3
  4. After planting, you can add a slow-release fertilizer to the soil to improve the growth rate.
  5. Growing trees need regular pruning to boost their growth rate, but be careful when dealing with thorny species.
  6. You can start planting from seeds, but the fastest and most convenient method is propagation from root and shoot cuttings.
  7. The thornless species is the best option for landscaping, and you can request the particular species when buying a seedling.9

How Do Honey Locust Tree Thorns Look Like?

A key question to ask before planting the tree in your yard is, are Honey Locust tree thorns poisonous?

It is critical when you have kids or pets playing around who might get hurt; it is the same concern as a poisonous bush with red berries identification because you want to avoid medical emergencies.

Low-angle show of Honey Locust tree trunk showing its thorns.

(Image: AfroBrazilian14)

Luckily, the thorns and other parts of the Honey Locust tree don’t contain toxins or poison.

Still, you should be careful around them because the 7.8 -inch-long needles are prickly and can injure you unless you are dealing with a thornless breed.

Are Black Locust Tree Thorns Poisonous?

Sadly, the Black Locust tree leaves, seeds, and bark contain toxalbumins, poisonous compounds to humans and animals. They can lead to severe pain when ingested and can be fatal.

They are also sharp, reaching almost 2 inches long.

Problems of the Honey Locust Tree

Like any other tree type, you should look out for Honey Locust tree problems, especially deadly pests, and diseases.

The common pests of the Honey Locust tree include borers, blister beetles, eriophyid mites, leaf-hoppers, and the pod-gall midge.

You can identify infestations through leaf discolorations and damage, watch out for brown or yellow leaves and check whether the leaves are twisting or falling off. While the best way to counter pest attacks is to use insecticides, you can opt for natural pest control for Honey Locust tree, which is safer for the environment.

Besides introducing predatory insects to feed on the bugs, you can also create homemade insecticides by mixing water with neem oil, dish soap, and vegetable oil.

The tree is also vulnerable to diseases that can spread to become fatal unless you know how to stop Honey Locust tree disease.

The most common infestations are verticillium wilt, a fungus that travels through tree roots, and canker disease, which causes dead spots on the barks and branches. To avoid these diseases, it is crucial to practice proper planting practices, spacing the trees, and not overwatering.5

Otherwise, crowding leads to improper air circulation and facilitates the spread of diseases.

If you notice a fungal infection, the best remedy is to cut down the tree or chop off the affected part to avoid further spreading.

Wide shot of Honey Locust tree situated in a park showing its wide canopy and bright green leaves.

(Image: Gmihail15)

The Honey Locust tree is a magnificent, fast-growing species, famous for the long thorns growing on the trunk and branches. It is commonly confused for the Black Locust tree since they share some features, but the two are distinct.

The Honey Locust grows taller, and its parts are non-toxic, unlike the Black Locust with lethal leaves, bark, and thorns. The former is preferred for urban landscaping due to its impressive growth rate and massive shade coverage, and there is the thornless and seedless option for those with reservations.

You can plant the Honey Locust tree if you are looking for a tree that grows and matures faster than others, and the best part is that it is easy to maintain, given its resilient nature.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Honey Locust Tree

What Are the Best Growing Conditions for Bay Leaf Tree?

The Bay Leaf tree enjoys the full sun and needs at least 6 hours daily. The perfect soils should be fertile, well-draining, and moist, and you have a better success chance if living in hardiness zones 8-10.

What Are the Common Thorny Tree Types?

Besides the Honey Locust and Black Locust trees, there are hundreds of other thorny tree species in the US. The most common ones include Acacia, Hawthorn, Palo Verde, Mesquite, Floss Silk, Sandbox, Kapok, Devil’s Walking Stick, Osage Orange, and Pochote, among many more.

What Are the Dangers of the Locust Tree Thorns?

The thorns on the locust trees measure almost 2 inches long and can easily puncture the skin, leading to slow-healing wounds. The deadliest are the Black Locust Tree thorns which are poisonous and can cause fatalities if ingested.

What Are the Uses of Honey Locust Tree Leaves?

The Honey Locust leaves are a rich source of stenocarpine, local anesthesia, and gleditschine, which causes reflex loss. Research is also underway to test whether the leaves have anti-cancer properties.

What Are the Trees With Thorns in Ohio?

The Black and Honey Locust trees are common thorn trees in Ohio, although you will also find species like the Hawthorn, Floss Silk, Acacia, Kapok, Pejibaye, Russian Olive, and American Holly, among many others.


1Arbor Day Foundation. (2023). Thornless Honeylocust. Retrieved March 28, 2023, from Arbor Day Foundation: <https://www.arborday.org/trees/treeguide/TreeDetail.cfm?ItemID=852>

2Bios Urn. (2023). Honey Locust: Symbolism, Information and Planting Instruction. Retrieved March 28, 2023, from Bios Urn: <https://urnabios.com/honey-locust-planting-instructions/#:~:text=The%20best%20time%20to%20start,is%20very%20easy%20and%20fast!>

3Emelyn. (2023, January 20). How To Grow Honey Locust Tree? Retrieved March 28, 2023, from Plantly: <https://plantly.io/plant-care/how-to-grow-honey-locust-tree/>

4Rusell, E. (2023). Honey Locust Trees vs. Black Locust, Compared. Retrieved March 28, 2023, from Gardening Channel: <https://www.gardeningchannel.com/honey-locust-trees-vs-black-locust-compared/>

5Safari Tree. (2020, January 10). Locust Tree Insects and Diseases. Retrieved March 28, 2023, from Safari Tree: <https://www.safaritree.com/blog/tree-care/locust-tree-insects-diseases/>

6Bates College. (2023). Honey Locust. Bates Canopy. Retrieved April 11, 2023, from: <https://www.bates.edu/canopy/species/honey-locust/>

7Extension Agronomists, Department of Extension Plant Sciences, New Mexico State University. (2015, June). Nitrogen Fixation by Legumes. College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences. Retrieved April 11, 2023, from: <https://pubs.nmsu.edu/_a/A129/>

8Gabriel, S. (2018, January 8). Black Locust: A Tree with Many Uses. Cornell CALS – College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Retrieved April 11, 2023, from: <https://smallfarms.cornell.edu/2018/01/black-locust/>

9Gilman, E. F., & Watson, D. G. (2021, August 19). GLEDITSIA TRIACANTHOS VAR. INERMIS: THORNLESS HONEYLOCUST. AskIFAS. Retrieved April 11, 2023, from: <https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/ST279>

10NC State University. (2023). Gleditsia triacanthos. NC State Extension. Retrieved April 8, 2023, from: <https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/gleditsia-triacanthos/>

11University of Redlands. (2023). Honeylocust. University of Redlands. Retrieved April 11, 2023, from: <https://sites.redlands.edu/trees/species-accounts/honeylocust/>

12Honey locust tree, Morristown Photo by Billy Hathorn / Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0). Resized. From Wikimedia Commons <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Honey_locust_tree,_Morristown,_NJ_IMG_6472.JPG>

13Gleditsia triacanthos Photo by Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz / Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0) . Resized. From Wikimedia Commons <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gleditsia_triacanthos_kz02.jpg>

14Gleditsia triacanthos Photo by AfroBrazilian / Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0) . Resized. From Wikimedia Commons <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gleditsia_triacanthos_01.JPG>

15Gleditsia triacanthos Tašmajdan Photo by Gmihail at Serbian Wikipedia / Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Serbia (CC BY-SA 3.0 RS). Resized. From Wikimedia Commons <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gleditsia_triacanthos_Ta%C5%A1majdan.jpg>