Texas Mountain Laurel (Sophora secundiflora)

David Abrego

Mountain laurel withstands reflected heat, thrives in poor alkaline soils, and only needs a little bit of water in return. These traits make it a great choice for xeriscape gardens.

Did you know Texas mountain laurel is a member of the bean and pea family (Fabacea)? These plants are ideal for fixing problems related to soil nitrogen. In addition, mountain laurel withstands reflected heat and thrives in poor alkaline soils all while only needing a little bit of water in return. These traits make it a great choice for xeriscape gardens. If you provide good drainage and full sun/partial shade your Texas Mountain Laurel will be like a fish in water.

Texas mountain laurel is one of the first plants to bloom in the spring. They begin to bloom in February and continue through mid-April. You can’t miss the unique fragrance of the flowers if you walk past this drought tolerant tree while it’s blooming. It’s one of sweetest scents that your WaterSaver garden will bring you. The scent is often described as grape bubblegum or grape soda, and it’s almost intoxicating.

The flowers are hermaphrodite, in dense terminal inflorescences racemose and pendants. The petals of the flowers are blue or violet blue; the flowers take the typical form of a pea flower. Bees and butterflies are attracted to the flowers for pollen and nectar, and appreciate the blooms so early in the season when not much else is blooming in local landscapes for spring quite yet.

Texas mountain laurel is an evergreen shrub usually multi-trunked that can be trained into a small tree up to 30 feet tall. The diameter of its trunk reaches about 8 inches. It grows relatively slowly so it doesn’t require a lot of pruning and can be used as a companion planting along the side of a house or any other structure. Its wood has utility as firewood and tool handles.

Once Texas mountain laurel is finished blooming, the show is not over! Gray fuzzy seed pods with bright red seeds inside form after the flowers fade and dangle from the tree, decorating it all summer until autumn.

The dried seeds inside the pods rattle when completely dry and mature. These beautiful red seeds are used in jewelry and highly valued by Native Americans for their ornamental and ceremonial use. As a friendly warning: the seed and the flower of the mountain laurel are poisonous. They contain cytisine (poisonous alkaloid) and sophorine, a substance related to nicotine and widely used as a narcotic and has hallucinogenic properties. Be sure to keep small children and pets a safe distance from this amazing plant.

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