How to Grow Texas Mountain Laurel
Texas Mountain laurel (Dermatophyllum secundiflorum) has other names also such as Texas mescalbean, frijolillo, and frijolito. It is a species of a small tree or flowering shrub in the Fabaceae (pea) family. This tree is native to the southwestern United States (New Mexico, Texas) and Mexico (Coahuila and Chihuahua).
This article focuses on Texas mountain laurel, its propagation, caring, and uses.
One thing to note here is that it has no relation with Agave species or peyote cactus. Since Texas mountain laurel has “mescalbean” as one of its common names, some people confuse its relation with the above-mentioned drugs.
For information, spirit mezcal has Agave species as its main ingredient. peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii) constitutes the hallucinogenic alkaloid mescaline
Generally, Texas mountain laurel is a slow-growing, evergreen, hardy plant. This is also a drought-tolerant shrub. This plant can adapt very well to desert-like or nearly desert-like environments where the water supply is inadequate. Still, you can find them commonly in the buffer zones (riparian zones) between river and lands
It has leaves arranged in a feather-like structure (pinnately compound). These small leaves usually have broadly rounded edges (spatulate). They are also thick, waxy to touch, and feel leathery.
The flower cluster grows about 6 inches long. The flowers usually have a very strong aroma. The fragrance of these flowers resembles a somewhat grape soda flavor. You can smell them across the street a few feet away.
These flowers usually bloom in the early spring (March, April). Tragically, the blooming lasts only a few weeks. After that, it withers and takes the smell out from the flowers.
Normally, the pods sprout following the flowers. They are usually 4 inches in length and contain beautiful deep orange seeds.
This tree rarely has straight or upright trunks. The bark is usually smooth and soft. Texas mountain laurel can grow 15 feet tall. Its crown spreads 10 feet in diameter.
Though the flowers are lovely and admirable, they are toxic to humans and animals. In fact, every part of the tree including the beautiful seed pots and small leaves is toxic.
Phylogenetic studies have recently reclassified some members of Sophora genus including Texas mountain laurel as Dermatophyllum (calia’s taxonomic synonym).
Unknowingly or being used to, some people still refer to this tree as Calia secundiflora or Sophora secundiflora. These were the obsolete classification versions of this tree.
There is also another plant (Kalmia latifolia) popularly known as “mountain laurel”. In fact, Kalmia latifolia belongs to Ericaceae (heather) family. But this article focusses on “Texas mountain laurel” which belongs to Fabaceae (pea) family.
Propagation of Texas Mountain Laurel
Generally, these types of plants grow well in USDA Zone 7B. Texas Mountain Laurel is a slow-growing plant. So, if you can wait for about a year, you can grow from seed. Or else, you can purchase a well-established plant online or from a nearby nursery. However, this plant does not grow well from the cuttings.
Seeds from Garden
Normally, the seeds falling from the trees will have very hard shells. So, they may take a few years to germinate. But there are a few tricks that you can follow so as to start the germination process relatively quickly.
Collect the seeds when the pods are still green and just starting to turn grey. At these stages, the seeds will be pinkish in color and their shells would be comparatively smooth.
Plant these seeds in large containers (at least a gallon size). Make sure the container is filled with a healthy potting mixture that drains well. Water the planted seed regularly.
In this method, you can preserve the seedlings indoors till they get established. Hence this method is recommended also.
Alternatively, you also have the option of planting seeds directly in the garden. Just bury the seed at least 1/2-inch-deep and water regularly. Make sure the soil is amended with essential nutrients.
In either case, make sure the planted place receives full sunlight or at least partial sunlight.
If you purchase the seeds online or received pods by donation, there is a great chance that they are old and matured. As far as pods are concerned, soak them in water for a day. This is to ease the breaking of pods. After that, take out the seeds by breaking the pods.
Then, scratch the seeds with a sharp knife or sandpaper. It is even better if you cut through the outer shell with a sharp knife. Then soak the resultant seeds about 2-3 days in warm water. Also, make sure to replace the warm water regularly so as to maintain the seeds’ tepidness.
Finally, when you plant them in a container or garden, make sure to water them daily, during the initial 2-3 months. After that, continue watering them at least weekly for a year.
Transplanting Texas Mountain Laurel
Once the seedlings establish themselves, Transplant them into your gardens. This method is applicable to purchased live plants also.
Dermatophyllum secundiflorum prefers to grow in well-drained alkaline, rocky soils. Even limestone-rich soils or turfs won’t hinder the growth. However, these plants may not grow well in sand, loam, and clay soils.
These hardy plants can grow even without fertilization. Still, it is a good practice to amend the soil with balanced fertilizers like NPK 10-10-10 in the spring. This is especially advisable if the soil quality is very poor.
Make sure to transplant the seedlings or live plants into a space that receives full sunlight or at least partial sunlight. In addition, mix some calcium to the soil. This helps the plant to grow established sooner.
Using a good quality tool, usually, a sharp shovel, dig a hole a bit larger than the root ball of the plant. After that, place the root ball carefully in an upright position, into the hole. Then cover the hole with the soil. Make sure to remove the debris and stones.
Texas mountain laurels usually live on deep rooting systems. So, sometimes they may not establish well upon transplantation. However, once well settled and established, they may require very minimal irrigation.
Also, we advise you to use proper Garden Gear while performing any gardening activity. This ensures your own safety and plant safety too!
Pruning Texas Mountain Laurel
In fact, it is not necessary to prune these shrubs. But some people want this plant to suit their spaces such as traditional looks, boundaries, compact bushes, Etc., In such cases, you can prune them using good quality pruning shears.
If you want to encourage the tree growing tall, prune the lower branched out, leaving at least 2-3 trunks. If you want the tree to look like a shrub, growing dwarf, then trim out the upper portion of the tree.
Normally, these trees start blooming after a year depending on the environment.
The best time to prune is the summer, after the blooming season. In summer, the plants go into dormancy due to the excess heat. You can take advantage of this season and start pruning.
First, prune out the deadwood and debris. After that, cut out the spindly, thin, unhealthy branches.
Alternatively, you can also prune them when plants go into winter dormancy. But this method is not preferred as the blooming rate lessens.
In any case, do not prune the tree more than 33% or one-third. if you do so, the plant may not regrow well as expected.
Pests and Diseases
Sephora worm or caterpillar (Uresiphita reversalis) often plagues Texas mountain laurel.
Generally, these caterpillars have yellow bodies. You can also call them moths. They can eat through or strip off the green leaves quickly. They also form shaggy loose webbing upon decimating the plant. However, the leaves regrow back and the plants usually do not suffer permanent damage.
You can control them by treating the affected portions with Bacillus thuringiensis (bt). Just spray the liquid on the affected parts, particularly under the leaves. You can find them disappear quickly.
Naturally, the deer do not bother the plant. Hence you do not have to worry to protect these plants from Deer and other Like animals.
Uses of Texas Mountain Laurel H2
Generally, Texas mountain laurel is a famous ornamental plant. It has beautiful showy flowers and deep orange seeds. Flowers cater to fragrance essences. Some people compare the scent of these flowers to grape soda, Kool-Aid, or gum. In fact, the aroma is deeper, richer, and naturally floral than the artificial smell of the treated or processes food items.
The seeds are sometimes used as necklace beads. These plants develop attractive reddish shaded woods. These beautiful woods are potentially useful products. But they are yet to catch up in the market commercially.
You can grow them as specimen trees or shrubs to beautify your outdoors. You also have the option of planting them in rows, so that the branches spread and form a natural screen!
Some Native American tribes used the seed pods or beans of these plants as hallucinogen (psychoactive agents). Later they replaced them with peyote (spineless cactus containing psychoactive alkaloids).
Generally, this plant does not constitute mescaline. But it principally has alkaloid cytisine. This substance has chemical relations with nicotine. Hence, this plant is potentially toxic to humans and animals.
Word of Caution
In fact, the whole plant including the beautiful flowers, seeds, and leaves is toxic and cannot be consumed. Just a single seed consumption can kill a fully grown adult.