Saturday, March 14, 2009

Texas Mountain Laurel (Mescal Bean)

During much of the year, Texas Mountain Laurel, Sophora secundaflora, is easily overlooked. But in March, this small accent tree is a show stopper. That's when you will find them covered with huge clusters of purple flowers.
Native to Central Texas, this member of the Pea family tends to be a multi trunked, somewhat slow growing plant. Although I've seen some larger, most Texas Mountain Laurels will grow to about 12 -15 feet. It has dark green, glossy leaves.
Native to the alkaline hills of Central Texas, this is a drought tolerant plant. It will tolerate the heavy clays of the lower Rio Grande Valley but make sure that you plant it in an area that drains well. It doesn't like wet feet. It's root structure is very sparce - with very few fibrous roots. (guess that's why it grows well in the Hill Country) This makes transplanting a little bit difficult. If you break the root ball while planting, you may lose your tree.

Oh, but what a reward this tree gives in March! The wisteria-like blooms smell like grape soda and attract bees and butterflies alike!
But beware. Most parts of this plant are poisonous - especially the claret red seeds in the seed pods. Another common name for Sophora secundaflora is Mescal Bean. Indians used the seeds as hallucinogenics - and I have read of deaths from this practice.

You can see why this tree is often overlooked when not in bloom. This one looks a little starved for nitrogen - the leaves tend to be much darker green.
Mountain Laurel is deer resistant - but the webworms love the one in my yard. My hubbie is pretty good about checking it a few times a week and squishing all the little worms that are munching on it. We have never needed to apply any chemical, but if squishing the worms is not your cup of tea, a BT product to take care of the worms.

This tree is just beginning to bloom. Mountain Laurel will produce its bloom stem many months before it's time to bloom. Some people mistakenly think they are from last years blossoms and remove them - then they wonder why their tree didn't flower!


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful tree! I wonder if it would grow in my zone 7b garden in Virginia.

Sheila said...

That is a beautiful bush or tree. I am not familiar with it.

garden girl said...

So pretty! The blooms are so showy, and such a beautiful color.

Corner Gardener Sue said...

I'm glad I got to enjoy yours, even though you couldn't send the fragrance. What a beauty! It's too bad they don't grow here.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if there is any reason why this plant can't be container grown, therefore, can be brought inside for colder parts of the U.S.?

Diane Floca Epstein said...

I know that Texas Mountain laurel grows in Dallas Texas--zone 7. They best ones in Texas are in Alamo Heights neighborhood in San Antonio which is zone 8 I believe. Some are 20 feet high. They are also planted around the LBJ Presidential library on the UT campus in Austin.They were 6 feet high when they were planted. This plant is very hard to plant or move. I do not know how they did it. Diane in Richmond VA

Anonymous said...

I have a beautiful Texas Mountain Laurel in my back yard in North Texas (DFW area). Every year it gets webworms. At first we were horrified and were even thinking about removing the tree. But one day, we saw a wasp fly into the worms "nest" and steal a worm. That wasp had a very tasty breakfast! After that, we realized that the worms were a food source for an important garden insect. People may not like wasps, but they do have a purpose.

We realized that the worms didn't actually do that much damage. It may not look nice at the time that they're on there, but our tree is not seriously harmed by them, and I honestly feel like the tree grows better because of them. We have the best, most dense flowers every year, unless we have a late freeze which doesn't happen that often. Just in case anyone doesn't know, the blooms smell like Grape Jelly or Kool-Aide!!!

You might try leaving the worms one year and see what happens. Also, this year our blooms were covered with little green bees which I found out are Orchid Bees. They're solitary bees which are not aggressive.

Anonymous said...

There are some of these trees in my community and they smell like grape lollipops. I love walking by them!!