Have you heard of the grape Kool-Aid tree? If you live in Texas, there is a good chance you have! The Texas Mountain Laurel tree is one of the first Texas native plants I learned about because of its beautifully fragrant flowers.
Want an evergreen, drought-tolerant tree with beautiful spring blooms? Look no farther than the Texas Mountain Laurel (Dermatophyllum secundiflorum).
What does Texas Mountain Laurel Look Like?
Texas Mountain Laurel is a multi-trunked tree that can be grown as a large shrub or a small tree. It is a slow grower that typically reaches 10-15 feet tall.
It is known for its evergreen dark green leaves, dense foliage, and beautiful clusters of purple flowers in the spring. The flower clusters can be six inches long and resemble wisteria flowers.
In the summer the tree has brown seed pods which contain bright red seeds. These seeds (also called beans) were used by Native Americans for ceremonial use and jewelry. However they are very toxic and a single bean can kill an adult if chewed. So never eat them!
5 Reasons to Plant a Texas Mountain Laurel Tree
1. It’s a great native evergreen plant
It isn’t easy to find a lot of native evergreen plants to add to your yard, but Texas Mountain Laurel is a a great one! It can be grown as an evergreen shrub or small tree for tight spaces.
This smaller, slow growing tree can add evergreen color to your landscape with its dark green foliage.
This ornamental tree can be used as a focal point of a landscaping bed, or plant several Texas Mountain Laurel trees together to create a privacy screen.
It’s also an excellent alternative to non-native invasive evergreen shrubs and trees such as Ligustrum (Privet).
2. Its spring blooms are unmatched
Early spring is when this Texas native tree really shines. Its large clusters of flowers droop from the trees from March to mid April.
For even more spring beauty in your yard, plant this tree alongside a Texas Redbud tree, which is covered in magenta purple blooms in March.
Texas Mountain Laurel blooms best in full sun, so it is a great tree for landscaping a sunny area.
3. Texas Mountain Laurel is very drought tolerant
Looking for an excellent low water plant once established? This tough plant actually thrives in dry rocky soils and the hot summers of Texas. It prefers alkaline soil and full sun conditions.
This tree requires good drainage and little more. Talk about the perfect tree for a low maintenance xeriscape yard!
4. It is a great spring nectar plant for your yard
Bees and butterflies are also drawn to the intoxicating grape scent of the flowers. The early spring blooms provide nectar and pollen while other flowering plants are still dormant.
Having a variety of plants in your yard with different bloom times throughout the year is critical for supporting pollinators.
5. It is a caterpillar host plant
It is also important to have butterfly and moth host plants in your yard. These are the plants that their caterpillars can eat. The Texas Mountain Laurel is the host plant for the Genista Broom Moth. The Genista caterpillar can eat the leaves which are toxic to other animals.
While many people see the Genista moth caterpillars as pests to get rid of, they are an important part of the food chain. Birds and lizards eat them, so don’t remove them unless you absolutely have to! The tree will bounce back from being eaten by the caterpillars.
Scientific and Common Names for Texas Mountain Laurel
Scientific Name: Dermatophyllum secundiflorum
Typically a plant has only one scientific (Latin) name. However this plant has gone through some changes in its scientific classification and naming over the past years. The most current scientific name is Dermatophyllum secundiflorum. However in the past it was classified as:
- Calia secundiflora
- Sophora secundiflora (you may often hear it still referred to by this scientific name)
Knowing the scientific name is important when you head to the nursery to ensure you are getting the correct plant. For instance, you don’t want to confuse Texas Mountain Laurel with a different Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) which is a flowering plant native to the Eastern United States.
Common Name: Texas Mountain Laurel
While a plant species has only one scientific name, it can go by several common names. In addition to its common name “Texas Mountain Laurel”, Dermatophyllum secunidflorum also goes by other names including Mescalbean, Frijolillo and Frijolito.
Texas Mountain Laurel is native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. Its native habitat stretches from Central Texas to New Mexico.
This tree is a desert native and the rocky limestone soils here in San Antonio provides the perfect habitat for it to thrive.
Yes! In fact the leaves and flowers are poisonous too. The seeds / beans can be very toxic to humans, dogs and other animals if consumed. A single bean can kill and adult if chewed. However, thanks to their very tough seed coat, the ingested bean typically passes through the digestive system without harm. Regardless, don’t eat these seeds!
While many Texas native plants can be difficult to find at the nursery, this tree is not one of them! It has been used in the nursery trade for quite awhile and should be readily available at garden centers along with local native nurseries.
If you are ambitious and want to try growing the tree by seed you can find seeds on Etsy to buy.
You can collect the seed pods in the summer once they are dry. The red seeds have a very hard seed coat, so you will need to scarify by scraping them with a knife or sand paper before planting them in a pot.
What are other spring blooming Texas trees?
There are several other great native Texas trees that you can add to your yard for spring color. Here are my favorites for Central and South Texas. Learn more about each of them here:
- Texas Redbud
- Mexican Plum
Why is it important to grow native plants?
If you add any new tree or plant to your yard, make it a native! Native plants are the foundation of a healthy ecosystem. These plants have evolved in your local area, while non-native plants were introduced from other countries. Native plants:
- Are important food source to plant-eating insects and wildlife
- Serve as host plants to butterflies and moths
- Require less water and maintenance
- Support more species than non-native plants
If you are new to native plants be sure to read the Top 6 Benefits of Native Plants in Your Yard. The majority of our yards are currently filled with non-native plants so there are lots of opportunities to swap in some natives and help the environment!
Pin this to help spread the word about native plants!
Hi, I’m Haeley! Welcome to Native Backyards.
I’m Haeley Giambalvo, the founder of Native Backyards and the author of this post! I really appreciate you stopping by, and I hope you found the information you needed. Feel free to reach out to me at any time with questions via email or on Instagram @NativeBackyards.
Together, we can help the Earth from our own yards by growing more native plants that support pollinators, birds and wildlife!