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The Master Gardener Journal


T H E   T R A V E L I N G   G A R D E N E R


East Valley Escape
by Janice Austin, Master Gardener

The East Valley holds some hidden treasures for horticultural enthusiasts. One of these treasures is found at Tempe's Daley Park, 1625 S. College Avenue. This park is home to a remarkable Carob Tree, Ceratonia siliqua. The tree features a uniquely stooped trunk and multiple, low cradling branches that create a natural, shaded playground for children. The low-set branches invite climbing and daydreaming under the tree's broad, evergreen canopy. Like a magnet, this historic tree draws visitors by its unusual shape and is the focal point of this small city park. According to horticultural agent Terry Mikel, the unusual form of the tree is the result of an old injury.

Carob Trees are found throughout the Mediterranean, Middle East and North Africa. Spanish missionaries introduced the carob into the American Southwest and Mexico. In 1856, the United States Patent Office brought seed from Spain and distributed 8,000 seedlings in the southern states. Many carob trees were planted in Texas, Arizona, California and Florida as ornamental and avenue shade trees.

Originally cultivated in the Mediterranean as a food source, the trees produce edible seed pods called "St. John's Bread." The pods are light to dark brown, flat and straight, with a glossy, tough exterior. The unripe pod is green and astringent, but the ripe pod may be chewed as a sweetmeat. Don't eat the seeds, though. The broken pod produces an odor like Limburger cheese because of its 1.3% isobutyric acid content. Historically, hungry farmers have lived on the pods in times of famine, though in better times the seed pods are given to livestock as a tasty, supplemental fodder.

Most of us have unsuspectingly partaken of the carob tree's bounty in one form or another. Commercially, carob flour is produced from the seed pods and is used in breakfast foods, candy bars, and as a stabilizer and thickener in bakery goods, ice cream, salad dressings, sauces, cheese, salami, bologna, canned meats and fish, jelly, mustard, and other food products1. The flour is also used in the production of dog biscuits and in flavoring uncured tobacco. The seeds are used in the "manufacture of cosmetics, pharmaceutical products, detergents, paint, ink, shoe polish, adhesives, sizing for textiles, photographic paper, insecticides and match heads,".

Today, there are many common cultivars and more than 80 clone varieties being researched as potential human food sources. Trees are male, female, and hermaphrodite, according to the variety. Carob trees are considered slow-growing, slightly hardier than citrus and young trees can suffer frost damage. They are drought-tolerant, flourish in climates with warm to hot summers, and do well in soils with good drainage.

Once you have visited Daley Park's uncommon carob tree, you may fall under its spell and wish to give one a home in your own backyard!

1. Julia F. Morton Fruits of Warm Climates, 1987.

Photo by Janice Austin.


Maricopa County Master Gardener Volunteer Information
Last Updated November 21, 2004
Author: Lucy K. Bradley, Extension Agent Urban Horticulture, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Maricopa County
© 1997 The University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cooperative Extension in Maricopa County
Comments to Maricopa-hort@ag.arizona.edu 4341 E. Broadway Road, Phoenix, AZ 85040,
Voice: (602) 470-8086 ext. 301, Fax (602) 470-8092