Texas Mountain Laurel

I get a lot of questions about this time of year about the Texas Mountain Laurel. Most of the questions are simply "what's that beautiful blooming plant that has gorgeous purple blooms that hang like grape clusters?" Sometimes, and often times, my favorite question about the Mountain Luarel has to do with its smell. More on that in a moment.

The Texas Mountain Laurel (Sophora secundiflora) is an attractive spring-flowering small tree with glossy, evergreen leaves and beautiful purple wisteria-like blooms smelling of grape Kool-aid. Another name by which it is known is Mescal Bean.

Texas Mountain Laurels usually reach a height of six to twelve feet, which allows them to fit well into the scale of the smaller modern garden. They often produce multiple trunks, and over time grow into show-stopping specimens. Texas Mountain Laurels are generally disease and pest-free, and tolerate a wide range of well-drained soils. They are native to the alkaline soils of the Texas Hill Country, and are often found growing among granite rocks, but it will do just fine in the Houston area, if you give it a well-raised bed.

Plant Texas Mountain Laurel in full sun or light shade, but protect it from the brutal late-day sun (4-7 p.m.) if at all possible. It is a very cold tolerant plant, even if it gets into the twenties here in Southeast Texas. Young trees may be purchased at the nursery, or grown from seed. The seeds may not sprout for several years unless they are first nicked with a file to start the process of germination. An easier way is to collect unripe seed, when it is pinkish in color, in late June or early July before the seed coat has had a chance to harden. Plant them immediately, and they should sprout quickly.

Texas Mountain Laurels are not easily transplanted and may require a year or more to overcome the process. One way to overcome this obstacle is to plant the seeds where you want them in the landscape or to plant them in gallon containers. Container grown plants should be handled carefully to avoid disturbing the root ball.

Although these trees are planted in many neighborhoods in the warmer parts of Texas, children should be warned that the seeds contain a poison. Texas Mountain Laurels are an excellent source of evergreen foliage and beautiful flowers and require little, if any, irrigation once established.

Until next issue, here's to Great Gardening from the GardenLine, heard exclusively, 6-10 a.m. Saturdays and 7-10 a.m. Sundays, only on NewsRadio 740 KTRH.

Randy Lemmon is the host of the GardenLine radio program on Newsradio 740 KTRH. Randy has been doing GardenLine in one capacity or another since December of 1995, for all three of the now Clear Channel AM stations - KTRH, KPRC & KBME. When Randy took over GardenLine, he replaced long-time Houston radio veteran and GardenLine originator, Bill Zak. For those who remember that far back, GardenLine was a weekly radio staple on KTRH from 10 a.m. to Noon Mondays through Fridays - along with a Saturday show as well. Now GardenLine is heard exclusively on Newsradio 740 KTRH on weekend mornings.