Texas Mountain Laurel: Intoxicating the Senses

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Bluebonnets get a lot of attention this time of year, and rightfully so! After all, they are the state flower and are a glorious sight to see in full bloom. However, there is another Texas gem that blooms this time of year and yet gets little attention in comparison. The Texas Mountain Laurel (Sophora secundiflora) is a Central Texas native that opens its beautiful purple blooms in February and March and intoxicates the senses.

Photo: Flickr/Sally Estrada


The Texas Mountain Laurel is a drought-tolerant evergreen shrub with dark, shiny leaves and large drooping clusters of purple flowers that smell oddly like grape bubblegum. The flowers give way to large seed pods filled with bright red seeds. The Mountain Laurel seed was a commodity that was much sought after by Native Americans. Tribes would trade a horse for about ten of the seeds. They made for beautiful adornments to clothing, had medicinal value, and ceremonial value.  The Caddo would use the Texas Mountain Laurel seed in their divination rituals in combination with peyote to induce visions. Medicinally, the Comanche used a concoction made from the seed has been used to ease earaches. The Cheyenne used it for an eyewash.

Photo: Flickr/~mkp*|:~)

Despite its uses in Native American culture, the leaves and seed of the Texas Mountain Laurel are highly toxic to both humans and animals. Ingestion of the seed can cause muscle paralysis, severe headaches, upset stomach, and excessive drowsiness. It is one powerful seed! However, don’t let that take away from the joy the Texas Mountain Laurel will bring. It will bless your garden with beauty year round. Plants are easily transplanted from the wild, and though they are slow growing, are extremely hardy. The butterflies and bees love the fragrant flowers, and the evergreen leaves keep the winter garden interesting when all other trees and shrubs have lost their leaves.

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