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Wednesday - March 12, 2008

From: Estero, FL
Region: Southeast
Topic: Transplants, Trees
Title: Viability of Texas Mountain Laurel in Florida
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Dear Mr. Smarty Plants While visiting Pinnacle Peak in Scottsdale we saw a beautiful Texas Mountain Laurel tree. What are the chances of this surviving in the Ft. Myers, Florida area. Either in the ground or in a pot on the patio? Thanks you for your help. MER


Frankly, we're amazed it's growing in Scottsdale. Sophora secundiflora (Texas mountain-laurel) is native only to a few counties in Southwest Texas and portions of New Mexico. It is a member of the Fabaceae (Pea) family. We looked at this website on Pinnacle Peak Park, hoping to get some information on how the Texas mountain-laurel came to be there. However, the plant was not listed as one of the native plants along the trail. Moutain laurel is readily available, at least around here, as small, seed-propagated plants. It is a very slow-growing plant, so one of display size would probably have to be dug in the wild, balled and burlapped and moved that way. Unfortunately, this is very difficult with this particular plant, and they often go into shock and die. However, as we began to do more research on this plant, we discovered that people not only in Texas were raising it, but some from other areas including California and Taiwan. Most were in agreement that starting them from seed was the best way, but that it was very slow, and you could wait months or even years to get sprouts.

In this Texas A&M University Cooperative Extension article by Dr. William C. Welch, he discusses the various ways of propagating the plant, particularly planting seeds in pots. He also says that it normally is found in the dryer soils of West Texas, but sometimes can be grown in East Texas if the soil is well-drained. Whether that would translate to growing in Ft. Myers, we couldn't say. The best we could find out, the average annual rainfall in Ft. Myers is about 40 inches. That's a whole lot of water for a plant that you saw growing in Scottsdale, where the average annual rainfall is 7 inches, and is now blooming in Austin which has an average annual rainfall of 32 inches, when we're really lucky! Most of the mountain laurels that occur naturally are farther west of here, in even more arid areas. Their natural habitat is dry rocky soil.

So, if you really want to try this out, as an experiment, we would suggest you obtain some seeds and plant a bunch in pots that are pretty deep. And be patient. Then, when some begin to sprout, transplant them quickly to bigger pots, because the bigger they get, the harder they are going to be to successfully transplant. They grow slowly, as we said before, so possibly you could enjoy it for a long time before it got too big for a reasonably sized pot. And they bloom in their own good time; maybe waiting years to show a couple of blossoms, or covering themselves with them in the Spring.

The Florida Native Plant Society has an excellent website on "Natives to Grow in Lee County." They listed Sophora tomentosa (yellow necklacepod), also a member of the Fabaceae family, as growing in your area. This University of Florida Cooperative Extension website will give you more information on this plant, and here is a page of pictures of the Sophora tomentosa. Granted, it's not the same, and flowers are yellow instead of blue, but it might be a whole lot more successful.

Sophora secundiflora

Sophora secundiflora

Sophora secundiflora

Sophora secundiflora



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