As I was walking through a wooded nature preserve yesterday — mon dieu! without my camera — I spotted what I thought must be the most evil-looking tree I have ever seen. Because I knew that Hawthorn trees had serious spikes on them, I assumed that was what it was. Once I returned home, I tried to find information to confirm my conclusion; however, the Hawthorn trees I saw on the web looked nothing like the thorny trees that I had seen earlier. It took using search queries like “big thorns + tree + Indiana” and then sifting through lots of photographs (some of which didn’t seem to have anything to do with trees) before I found what I was looking for. There was no mistaking those clusters of thorns. I had to walk back to the same spot today, this time with my camera and tripod. It was worth the one mile jaunt from the parking area, walking into a cold wind, to snap these photos of what I now believe to be a Gleditsia triacanthos, aka the Honey Locust.
This is definitely not a climbing tree, or one that you would want to run into!
There is all sort of interesting finds in this 80 acre site, a site that was once a farm and later an estate of a reclusive businessman. Local legends grew up around the place, known for over 50 years as The House of Blue Lights. For years, before the Parks Dept too over the property, it was a dumping ground and a site for illicit rendezvous. Pieces of barbed wire fencing remain scattered throughout: gates that no longer prevent trespass, rusting along with the leaves.
Honey Locust were not liked by the early settlers because they could spread rapidly, forming natural hedges. As a landscape plant, usually only varieties bred to be thornless are used. My guess would be that many were cleared when the land was farmed. The honey locust in the designated “transition area” between upland forest and wetlands, which is being allowed to revert to natural species, are just beginning to get re-established, I assume. Trespassers on the property were a nuisance for many years while the land was inhabited, and for years after the old estate and guest house had been torn down. Had there been more honey locust on the property, there might have been less need for barbed wire, fewer unwelcomed visitors making their way up the wooded creek to see what spooky legends lived at the top of the steep hill.