The Desert Ironwood tree is a native of the Sonoran Desert and is also called muscle wood (because its large branches look like flexed muscle).
A member of the pea family, this tree’s appearance, especially its leaves and flowers resemble a sweat pea, and is usually found growing near sandy water areas even though it is a desert plant.
Its adaptations come with its responsibility of being one of the main plants providing food and shelter for over 500 other desert plants and animals. It does this by creating a microhabitat around itself as it matures, and therefore is sometimes referred to as the “nurse plant”.
This shading also serves another purpose. Birds and other animals that live in the tree eat the sticky mistletoe like seeds, which they eventually eliminate after digestion. These seeds often start growing into trees themselves.
Their huge and wide canopies provided by its leaves, which are rich in nitrogen, nourish the ground beneath it providing necessary natural fertilizer for the plant.
Although it provides shade for so many animals and plants, it is a comparatively small tree, growing up to only about 30 feet, but it grows with several trunks, some about 24 inches in diameter on old trees.
This bark, as well as the tree’s wood is extremely hard, making it impossible to cut or burn down.
Another key function, which is related to its nursing responsibilities, is that even once the tree dies it does not decompose, offering valuable nutrients and shade to the many creatures and plants living off it.