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Desert Ironwood

Natural History

Ironwood is a member of the Pea Family. It grows into a tree to 35 feet in height and has gray bark which is smooth on younger trees, but becomes fissured and dark with age. The trunk grows to 1.5 feet in diameter. Leaves are bluish green and oblong with fine hairs and grow to 2 inches in length. A pair of thorns, 0.5 inches in length, grows at the base of each leaf.

The wood of the Desert Ironwood is extremely dense and will sink if you put it in water. A cubic foot of Ironwood weighs in at 66 pounds.

Ironwoods bloom between May - June and produce pale to deep purple flowers with 5 petals which grow to 0.5 inches in width. Flowers are followed by a brown, hairy, beanlike pod which grows to 2.5 inches in length. The seeds are eaten by many animals including birds and other animals, while the leaves are browsed by bighorn sheep. Native Americans also ate the seeds which supposedly taste somewhat like peanuts. They are mildly toxic, however, and should not be eaten in any quantity without proper preparation. Ironwood is very slow to grow and has been reduced from much of its historic range. Because of this, the trees are protected in Arizona,  where it is illegal to cut or burn them.

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