Thursday, October 29, 2009


This is the largest tornillo tree I have ever seen.  It's growing in somebody's front yard in Truth or Consequences.  The trunk must be 2 feet in diameter.  Notice the typically shaggy bark.  It would be fascinating to take a tree-ring core and see how old it is.  As you can see, somebody topped the trunk years ago, and forced the tree into a more spread-out configuration.  Tornillo leaves are small, and cast a filtered shade.

The screwbean is a close relative of the more common mesquite, and grows only on the floodplain near the Rio Grande where it can get plenty of water.  The tornillo produces clusters of tightly-coiled pods, thus its English name, "screwbean."  (Tornillo is Spanish for "screw.")  These pods are highly nutritious, and greatly favored by wildlife during the winter.  When I first moved to my Radium Springs homestead, I waded across the river almost every day and gathered a bag of tornillo pods to feed my goats.  If I lived near T or C and kept goats, I would offer to rake these peoples' yard for free, in exchange for the pods.  Their yard is covered with pods.  For this reason, many people would consider the tornillo a "messy" or "trashy" tree.  But the tornillo is actually a valuable producer of pods in the winter, and honey in the summer when it blooms.