Winter Garden Mountain Laurels
The genus name, Sophora, is from the Arabic name, Sophero, and the species name, secundiflora, refers to the one sided inflorescence. Other vernacular names are the Mescal Bean, Frigolito, Frijollito, Frijolillo, Coral Bean, Big Drunk Bean, and Colorin. The plant is native to the limestone soils in central, southern, and western Texas, New Mexico, and northern Mexico. It is not the same Mt. Laurel found in the Eastern United States-that species will not survive in our area of Texas, and our Texas Mt. Laurel does poorly in those "foreign" areas. Our Mountain Laurel is practically indestructible as a landscape plant. It will survive in our alkaline soils.
The Texas Mountain Laurel is an attractive spring-flowering small tree with glossy, evergreen leaves and beautiful purple wisteria-like blooms. The two-inch-long, dark green leaves are glossy, thick, and leathery. In spring, Texas-Mountain-Laurel is a beautiful sight as it displays its dense, two to five-inch-long, pendulous clusters of purple/blue, extremely fragrant flowers smelling of grape Kool-aid. They usually reach a height of six to twelve feet, 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.
Texas Mountain Laurels are an excellent source of evergreen foliage and beautiful flowers and require little, if any, irrigation once established. They thrive in the dryer areas of Texas but can be grown in East Texas if planted in well-drained. Texas-Mountain-Laurel can be used as a specimen, patio, or street tree and is ideal for use as a screen, bank cover, or an espalier.
Plant a row of Texas-Mountain-Laurel on 15 or 20 foot centers to form a nice canopy over a walk, or locate it close to a patio or deck. The bark on multi-trunked specimens shows off nicely when lit up at night from beneath the canopy.
Texas-Mountain-Laurel should be grown in full sun or partial shade on well-drained soil. This tough plant will tolerate hot, windy conditions and alkaline or wet soils but not compacted soil. Mt. Laurels only need moderate watering. Check for moisture by digging with your finger around the base of the plants if moist, don't water or you will rot the roots. Young trees may benefit from afternoon shading from the intense summer sun until they become established. These evergreen, blooming plants can be used for creating a privacy hedge or shrub mass.
Texas Mountain Laurels are not easily transplanted and may require a year or more to overcome the process. Container grown plants should be handled carefully to avoid disturbing the root ball. To plant containerized plants, simply dig the hole as wide, but no deeper than the container. Use the same soil pulled out of the hole to fill in around the plant or as your back fill soil. Make a circular dam around the hole (this makes watering easier). Water in thoroughly after transplanting to settle the soil around the root system.
Nothing seems to bother the hardy, drought tolerant Mt. Laurel. Hard freezes (below 20 degrees F.) will eliminate blooms, but won't kill the plants. These natives seem resistant to the dreaded cotton root rot fungus which is deadly to 90 percent of all other Texas landscape plants. No foliage disease bothers the glossy, evergreen leaves. Occasionally foliage worms may devour some leaves, but the plant comes right back. Because the Mt. Laurel is an evergreen shrub or tree which will grow to a height of eight to 12 feet tall or more (30 feet), this may be the ideal privacy plant for our area of Texas. No other evergreen is as durable or adaptable.
Although these trees are planted in many neighborhoods in the warmer parts of Texas, children should be warned that the seeds contain a poison. It seems that the bean of the Texas Mt. Laurel contains a hallucinogen chemical called cytisine. In the old days Indians used to crush some beans, mix with liquors, and have some real far-out parties! However, since the beans can be poisonous, moderation was the key to survival. Too many beans in the brew resulted in dead party goers. There was a fine line between drunk and dead.
These red beans were prized by Indians. In fact, Indians believed that a necklace of Mt. Laurel Beans presented as a gift to someone would protect that person from bodily harm. The red beans were so valued as an ornament that they were actually used as Indian currency; the redder the beans, the higher the currency value.
Of course, Texans for years have enjoyed using these red beans to "burn your buddy." Bored, resourceful children trying to create a bit of excitement would rub a red Mt. Laurel bean on the sidewalk until the friction would cause the tough skin of the bean to become burning hot. The troublemaker would then drop the hot bean down the britches, down the shirt or simply touch the tender skin of the intended victim to get an immediate and loud response. This used to be fun in the "good old days," but I should warn you old timers that schools have a zero tolerance policy for binging drugs to the campus, and the Mt. Laurel bean is considered a drug! So instead of your child being amused by getting to "burn his buddy," you will not find it amusing when your child is suspended for drug possession at school. This has happened in Texas several times, so burners beware!!
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