Posted On: July 25, 2016

Meet the Trees: Black Locust

You might be surprised to learn that this past spring, Madison Square Park planted a new Black Locust tree at the north side of 24th and Madison. This tree, named Robinia, is the third of it’s kind currently occupying the Park. The recent addition has been added to a collection of Black Locusts that have been a part of the Park’s tree plan since its inception.

Distinguished by its patterned bark, compound lacy leaves, and beautiful, pendulous flowers, the Robinia is valued for its ability to do well in particularly tough sites. The Robinia possesses the unique dexterity for repairing its own nitrogen via symbiosis. The advantage allows it to rectify poor soils on their own and colonize sandy, low-quality soils. With this capacity, the Black Locust is in turn able to nourish and repair its own ecosystem

While the Black Locust can serve as a boon to troubled ecosystems, ecologies have their own structures of checks and balances. Robinia can propagate in nutrient-deficient environments and palliate poor soil, but they are checked in ecosystems with established trees because the Black Locust is shade-intolerant and will not thrive when there is competition from taller trees. It’s when these trees are planted in very poor soils, marginal meadowland, or in full sun that they begin to form thickets and become invasive.

The tendencies of the Black Locust illustrate the paradox of the native plant movement. The towering trees show us how beautiful and beneficial plants of native origin can be while also demonstrating how invasive native plants can become given the right conditions. From this, we understand that there always exists a proper place for every plant. In the case of the Black Locust, Madison Square Park has been a grateful home to the billowing tree. The Robinia contributes much-needed nitrogen to our grounds, and this nutrient-rich soil is able, in turn, to act as a fertile base for the hundreds of other plant species that flourish throughout the Park.