Spiny evergreen tree with short trunk and widely spreading, rounded, dense crown often broader than high and with numerous purplish, pea-shaped flowers in late spring. Desert-ironwood is a broad-crowned evergreen attaining 30 ft. in height with a trunk diameter of 1-2 ft. The branches are armed with spines, and the bark is thin and scaly. The foliage, evergreen except during cold winters, is pinnately compound and covered with grayish-white hairs. Flowers, occuring in axillary racemes before the new leaves, are showy and pale, rose-purple in color.
Tesota is the single species of its genus named for Stephen Thayer Olney (1812-78), a businessman and botanist of Rhode Island. The name Tesota is derived either from a Spanish word for stiff, tieso, or from a Southwestern indigenous word for the tree. A characteristic and common desert tree, it is regarded as an indicator in selecting favorable sites for citrus orchards, since it grows only in subtropical areas with warm, mild winters. It is known locally as Ironwood and in Spanish as palo de hierro. The hard, dark brown wood with thin, yellow sapwood is easily polished but dulls tools used to work it. It is made into novelties such as bowls and small boxes and is excellent fuel. It is one of the heaviest native woods; only Leadwood (Krugiodendron ferrum (Vahl) Urban), a small tropical tree of southern Florida, is heavier. The beanlike seeds can be roasted and eaten. Desert animals also consume the seeds, and livestock browse the foliage. A parasitic mistletoe on the branches, with reddish, juicy berries, attracts birds, such as the phainopepla; the birds in turn spread the sticky seeds of the parasite to other trees, mostly in the legume family.
Find seed sources for this species at the Native Seed Network.
View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.