It is often a wonder how plants that grow in the most inhospitable sites produce some of the most spectacular flowers; cacti and acacias immediately come to mind, but there is another quite famous for bloom and it is the Texas mountain laurel, or Mescal bean or Sophora secundiflora. Its common names are a bit confusing; it's not a mountain laurel; and since it's also native to New Mexico as well as Texas, it could just as easily be called New Mexico mountain laurel, and of course it isn't related to the agave which is the plant from which Mescal Tequila is distilled. Nonetheless, despite the confusion of its common name, this small North American sophora is stunning. It has smooth and shiny compound foliage of a beautiful emerald green worthy of use in flower arrangements. In addition to being beautiful, the foliage is also evergreen which means it can be admired year round. But the most dramatic characteristic of this tree is the bloom. In spring, the Texas (or New Mexico) mountain laurel is absolutely stunning as it displays dense, five inch long clusters of blue flowers, quite similar to wisteria but more compact. The color can tend to more purple or more blue (occasionally a white flowering one turns up) and it is guaranteed to attract comment. But the beauty of the bloom isn't all because these inflorescences are also extremely fragrant. Finally, in winter, a very pretty (though toxic) bean is produced. It is shiny, dark red and for thousands of years was used by indigenous peoples as jewelry.

This tree is easily accommodated in any warm-weather garden since it only reaches 25 feet at most with a 10 foot spread. It can work as a patio tree or street tree, a lawn specimen or a screen since its evergreen foliage maintains privacy year round.

Texas mountain laurel should be grown in full sun or partial shade and is heat and drought tolerant. In fact it will thrive in places where few other trees will.  It can even tolerate alkaline or acidic soil as long as they are well-drained. Texas mountain laurel is well suited to the southern US, particularly the southwest, but it should do equally as well in Australia and New Zealand.

As always, a tree this rare is not likely to be found in the large discount nurseries, but more likely found in the select plant nurseries or from mail-order tree nurseries.

Texas mountain laurel


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