Thursday, February 19, 2015

Tools of Torture in Texas - The Honey Locust Tree

One of the things I love about Texas as a setting for crime novels is that there are so many ways to kill people, or if we don't need a killing, just hurt them.

Take the honey locust tree. It's a nasty thing, and along with fire ants and snakes, one of the topics I plan to discuss with God when I squeeze my way through those Pearly Gates.

I've heard they can grow to over 75 feet, but I haven't seen any honey locusts taller than 40 feet or so on our place. Thank goodness, because they're a bear to take down by hand.

Here's why:


The branches of the honey locust are covered in dark red thorns that grow five to six inches long, and are barbed, making this tree a natural form of brutal barbed wire. These thorns aren't some namby-pamby flexible things; we've punctured tires on farm vehicles by driving over a honey locust thorn.

If that's not bad enough, the trunk is covered with clusters of thorns. Chopping one of these babies down requires careful de-limbing and a delicate dance as the tree falls. I don't think we've taken one down without numerous puncture wounds and scratches. Dragging it to the burn pile? Be careful, because gloves are useless. (We've moved on to using a Bobcat for this type of work. Our heads, shoulders, legs, arms, hands - even our feet - thank us.)

People use these things in their landscapes for shade and because the flowers are attractive. Personally, I prefer a less threatening form of garden enhancement. (There's supposed to be a thornless variety, but why take the chance?)

Do you see why I treasure all the weirdness in East Texas?

Back to the point of this post: torture. I don't think someone could die from a run-in with these thorns (I Googled it and found no instances of death by honey locust), but they could poke an eye out and perhaps end up with unintended piercings.

On the other hand, barbed wire contributed to a death in THE DEVIL OF LIGHT, and those barbs are much shorter than a honey locust's thorns, so who knows what might happen to a bad guy who runs head-on into one of these trees?

So far in the Cass Elliot Crime Series, twin teenage brothers Matt and Mark Grove have twice found themselves in situations where one or the other is assaulted by a honey locust, resulting in creative cursing and several dollars for the cuss bucket. I can, however, imagine a more violent use for them in the future. The bad folks of Forney County better watch out...

(I should come clean at this point: the USDA says you can find this horrible tree all over the US, with the exception of Oregon and Washington (and presumably Hawaii and Alaska). Which means you have free rein to torture a character with a honey locust just about anywhere in the states. But boy, I'd sure like to know what those two states did to become honey locust free.)

photo credit: via photopin (license)
photo credit: may 30 via photopin (license)

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