Although slow-growing, the Texas mountain laurel tree is a fantastic native evergreen shrub or small tree that is hardy and a great option for growing in alkaline soils where other plants may not grow well.
Read on to learn more about how to grow and care for this plant.
What Is A Texas Mountain Laurel Plant?
The Texas mountain laurel, which is also sometimes known as the mescal bean is scientifically known as Dermatophyllum secundiflorum, and was previously known as Sophora secundiflora and Calia secundiflora. This plant is an evergreen multistemmed shrub or small tree of the Fabaceae (pea) family.
This tree may reach heights of at least 30 ft (9 m) and widths of 10 ft (3 m) given enough time and the right growing conditions, but most plants mature at about half that size or less.
As the name suggests, these plants are native to Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico where they grow on slopes and plains, often on rocky limestone soils.
The alternately arranged leaves are compound and consist of 7 to 13 dark green, leathery, and glossy leaflets. The bark of these plants is generally smoothly textured.
Texas Mountain Laurel Flowers
These plants produce showy 3 to 7 inches (7 to 18 cm) long hanging clusters of blue to purple, fragrant pea-like flowers. Blossoming occurs in the early spring and the flowers have a sweet fragrance best described as similar to artificial grape flavor used in sodas and candies.
After flowering, the flowers mature into 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm) long pods filled with toxic, but attractive orange-red seeds. These seedpods create an interesting and showy effect in their own right.
How To Grow A Texas Mountain Laurel
New plants can be propagated from seeds, but these must be soaked for a period of around 48 hours to soften and remove their sticky coverings. These seeds can be sown fresh and plants will begin flowering after 3 or 4 years of growth.
These plants can be grown from small semi-ripe cuttings of 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm) long, planted in a fast-draining medium. Cuttings should be taken from younger plants that are still actively growing in size, rather than directing new growth towards flower and seed production. (1)
These cuttings will develop roots within about 2 months if treated with a rooting hormone powder. They should be kept in frost-free areas over the winter before planting out in the spring.
Grow these plants in fast-draining soil. They are well adapted to growth in alkaline, calcareous soils with a pH of 7. They are tough plants that can survive exposure to high temperatures and strong winds, as well as moderate drought conditions.
Texas mountain laurel tree should be grown in full to partial sun in USDA zones 7 to 10. In very hot areas, these plants will benefit from some afternoon shade.
Care and Maintenance
This plant has very low maintenance needs. It can be trained as a single-stemmed small tree but often grows as a multistemmed shrub or small tree. While these plants are quite drought-resistant, they should be kept watered for their first year or two until established.
While Texas mountain laurel shrubs and trees are generally highly pest and disease resistant, they do have one ‘Achilles heel’. The Genista moth caterpillar, where present, can cause rapid defoliation of these plants, stripping the leaves in a matter of just days. This can, however, be controlled with the application of insecticides containing Bacillus thurengiensis (Bt). (2)
This plant can be grown as a small specimen tree, patio tree, espalier, or can even be grown in containers or as bonsai specimens. Due to the toxic nature of the seeds, these plants should not be grown around schools or other places where children play.
This plant has a history of traditional uses including the treatment of earaches as well as for making ornaments like necklaces from the pretty red seeds. These seeds are known to be highly toxic, however, but were used as a hallucinogen and narcotic. (3)
Invertebrate pollinators like bees and butterflies are attracted to the flowers of this plant. Fortunately, these plants are known to be highly deer resistant flowering shrubs.
For gardeners in USDA zones 7 to 10 with rocky, alkaline soil, the Texas mountain laurel is a great low maintenance evergreen shrub or small tree option. The beautiful showy blossoms, attractive seed pods, and deliciously fragrant flowers are strong selling points for this wonderful native species.
(1) Toogood, A. Plant Propagation: A Fully Illustrated Plant-By-Plant Manual Of Practical Techniques.
(2) Drees, B.M. & Bogran, C. Genista Caterpillar On Texas Mountain Laurel. Retrieved at https://landscapeipm.tamu.edu/ipm-for-ornamentals/genista-caterpillar-on-texas-mountain-laurel/
(3) TWC Staff. Sephora secundiflora. Retrieved at https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=sose3
*image by Pixabay