Robinia pseudoacacia, famed for fenceposts
The following paragraphs were published in the magazine, Scientific American (Volume 2, Issue 16), on January 9, 1847. The first part talks about the strength of black locust wood when used in wheels, and the final sentences talk about its resistance to rot.
The following notes relative to the duration of the locust wood (Robinia pseudo acacia,) have been made by M. Pepin, Jardin du Roi, Paris :
A number of trees were felled that had been planted from 40 to 50 years; but not more than one to five of those wheelwrights [makers of wheels] who came to purchase, appreciated sufficiently the locust, the others preferring elm.
Ultimately the locust was sold to the persons who knew its value, at one third higher price than the elm. The purchasers found that spokes made of the wood in question lasted two sets of felloes [wheel rims], and were likely to answer for a third. Under equal circumstances of wear and tear, spokes made of locust wood were perfectly sound, while those of oak required to be replaced.
M. Pepin further states that the ends of locust gate posts which had been in the soil for upwards of forty years were still not decayed.
This sort of wood employed as feet or supports to chests made of oak, proved sound, although the oak plank in contact with them had been thrice renewed; but oak supports decayed simultaneously with the oak planks composing the chests. Vine props of locust wood are greatly esteemed.
Black locust fenceposts enjoy a reputation of unusual durability to this day. Farmers in some areas have even planted locust groves for the purpose of providing fenceposts. Since the black locust grows 2 to 3 feet per year and sends up suckers from its roots, a small grove could supply a lot of posts.
The trees are extremely vulnerable to damage from locust borers and other insects, so their wood is not often suitable for lumber. It is primarily used for railroad ties and (yes) fenceposts. It also makes great firewood, burning nearly as hot as coal.
George Ellison wrote an eloquent tribute to the black locust in the January 18, 2006, edition of The Smoky Mountain News: "A locust by any other name."
A young black locust colony, mixed with sassafras, grows in our neighbor's milk-cow pasture along our lane. In spring, the fragrance of the locust blossoms is heavenly.