The fragrance that permeates the air when Texas Mountain Laurels are in bloom is instantly recognizable. Imagine you are taking a walk late February/early March. Childhood memories flood your mind as the scent of grape Kool-Aid wafts by your nose. You follow your nose to the large shrub/small tree that is boasting clusters of lavender purple blooms and take in its heady scent. You pump your fist in the air in triumph because you know that when you see the blooms on Texas Mountain Laurels spring has arrived in San Antonio, Texas!

Texas Mountain Laurels are great for attracting pollinators.
Texas Mountain Laurels are visited by butterflies.

All About Texas Mountain Laurels

Texas Mountain Laurels, Sophora secundiflora, are classified either as large native shrubs or small native trees in San Antonio. The Texas Mountain Laurel is an evergreen that averages about 10’-15’ x 10’W at maturity. Although this tree can reach heights topping 30’, the 10’-15’ range is what we normally see here in our area. Texas Mountain Laurels put on a huge bloom show in spring with gorgeous flower clusters, resembling those of wisteria, which exude an enticing grape-infused fragrance.

The 3”-7” long clusters of blooms attract many pollinators and Mountain Laurels are a larval host for the Henry’s Elfin butterfly. These amazing plants are also highly deer resistant. Hooray! Just remember that deer can still damage young trees when they rub their antlers against the bark to remove their velvet. Take precautions to protect the trunks of ANY young trees if deer are a problem in your neck of the woods.

The pendulous flowers are followed up by fuzzy, peanut-shaped, seedpods. If the dried seedpods are opened, you will find hard, bright-red seeds inside. These seeds are toxic so keep this in mind when choosing a site to plant your Texas Mountain Laurel. Seeds can be collected and planted for more trees. Due to the seed having such a hard outer coating, nicking the seed before planting will help speed up germination. (If you skip the nicking, don’t plan on your seed sprouting for a couple of years, or harvest the seeds when they are more pink than red, when the outer coating isn’t as hard, and plant right away.)

Plant in a site that receives full sun, or mostly full sun, and in an area where there is excellent drainage, as Mountain Laurels cannot tolerate soggy soil. Provided that your chosen planting site drains well, you don’t have to worry about a lot of soil preparation. Texas Mountain Laurels are native plants that are use to, and actually prefer, the rocky, limestone soil we have in San Antonio.

Once they have become well established, these trees/shrubs are extremely heat and drought tolerant. That is great news for San Antonio residents! They are also tolerant to the type of cold that we have in the winter here in San Antonio. A rare, late freeze, or dip below 20°F might have your blooms temporarily saying bye-bye, but your Texas Mountain Laurel will be fine.

Be sure you have the right spot picked out the first time you plant your Texas Mountain Laurel, as these trees have a long taproot that does not like to be disturbed once planted, making the tree difficult to dig and transplant to another location.

If you want a Texas Mountain Laurel, but are looking to quickly fill in your landscape, we suggest buying the largest sized tree available, as these trees are not known for rapid growth. Believe us when we tell you that these trees/shrubs will be worth the wait. This is one Texas tough plant that will last for years in your landscape with little maintenance, if any, once it is established.

At Rainbow Gardens, we generally have a great selection of Texas Mountain Laurels for you to select from. Add another beautiful, Texas native plant to your landscape today. Your sense of smell will thank you!

~The Happy Gardener, Lisa Mulroy