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Elemental Information About the Ironwood Tree You Should Know

Information About the Ironwood Tree
Contrary to the general perception that deserts do not have varied flora, the Sonoran Desert has a different story to narrate. Ironwood tree, found in the Sonoran Desert, provides ample reasons to defy the general perception about deserts.
Samarpita Choudhury
Last Updated: Jul 28, 2017
Did You Know?
Ironwood carvings were first introduced in the Sonoran Desert by the Seri Indians.
The Sonoran Desert in North America houses one of the toughest varieties of wood in the world. This species belongs to the genus Olneya. Popularly known as the desert ironwood tree, it contributes substantially to the ecosystem of the desert.

Studies state that the tree has not been declared under the 'extinct list' of species, but its dwindling numbers are enough for one to understand its significant decrease in the recent past. One can find this hardwood in parts of Arizona, California, and Mexico, which fall under the mighty Sonoran Desert.
Anatomy and Identification
Ironwood trees do not scale large heights. They can grow up to 30 - 40 feet tall. The bark is ridged and gray in color.
The trunk of an ironwood tree may be attractive to watch. At times, they may even have multiple trunks. They have no thorns.
Ironwood tree trunk
The leaves are oblong in shape, placed alternatively along the twigs. The leaves at the end of the branches are larger in size. They are thin and have sharp tips. They are green in color, but turn yellow during fall.
Ironwood tree leaves
The flowers are non-showy and bloom at the onset of spring. They are long and slender, taking on the shape of a chandelier. The tree grows through the dispersion of the seedpods.
Ironwood tree flowers
Some Quick Picks
Given its hard texture, birds do not find this tree as a good option for nesting.
It is one of the world's densest and hardest forest woods. Owing to its high density, ironwood logs don't float on the surface of water.
The thick layer of brown bark of the tree can protect it from rotting for over 40 years even in extreme conditions such as desert or wet soil.
Studies reveal that the seeds of the tree are rich in lectins, a natural glue. This helps the tree to keep off predators, and is also known to act as a digestion activator.
The longevity of the tree is high, but it has a slow growth rate.
These trees live for 300 years or more. Dead trees can stand for about 1,000 years, while some have been carbon-dated at 1,600 years.
Since the tree is evergreen, it provides a safe habitat to many animals, insects, smaller trees, and other members of the ecosystem. It is also a source of food for many, as the seeds of the tree are edible. Scientists also opine that being the tallest and the longest surviving tree in the Sonaran desert, ironwood influences the flourishing of other members of the ecosystem. Thus, it acts as the keystone species. Hence, the name nurse plant is apt for this hardy tree.
As the wood is very dense, it burns slowly, making it ideal to use as fuel wood and for making charcoal.
With the increase in population of the Sonaran desert, the rate of usage of this tree has multiplied manifold, thus, affecting its numbers severely.
Ironwood is extensively used in making furniture and wood carving because of its durability.
Lophira alata and Australian pine are other ironwood varieties, which thrive in tropical Africa and Australia, respectively.
The oil obtained from the flowers of the tree has anti-inflammatory properties, thus being very effective on wounds and bruises. The root provides a cure for snake poison. The seed oil helps cure skin infections.
Cause of Alarm
Usability of Ironwood
As the ironwood tree can be used in so many diverse ways, the primary threat that it faces is the higher user requirements of the tree in many forms. Thus, its diminished numbers is a cause of worry in present times.
Buffelgrass is a new member in the Sonoran Desert, and like other types of grass, it grows near other trees and plants. They have very dense rooting, and therefore, they can become a growing hindrance for the survival of other desert plants in the vicinity. But it is a cause of alarm for the sustenance of ironwood trees because studies have confirmed that this variety of grass is highly invasive; so much that multiple problems crop up with their growth.
buffel grass sonoran desert
  • The very first problem is the dearth of water. With the growing numbers of this grass, the other trees, shrubs, cacti, and other types of desert plants face extreme competition for water. Many desert plants are unable to survive because of water scarcity.
  • Buffelgrass is also known to ignite fires. Many frequent wild fires have completely devastated the growth and sustenance of ironwoods. Because of the slow growth rate, it takes many years for an ironwood tree to grow and flourish.
Although ironwood is not susceptible to many diseases, it has been found that the tree faces some amount of problems from pests. Apart from this, there are not too many things that can affect the growth of this desert jumbo adversely. However, care should be taken to minimize the occurrence of buffelgrass that causes sufficient damage to the tree, which can eventually lead to removal of these trees from the face of the Earth.