Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - The University of Texas at Austin information

 Native Plant Database

Sophora secundiflora


Texas mountain laurel, Mountain laurel, Mescal bean, Mescal bean sophora, Frijolillo, Frijolito


Fabaceae (Pea Family)



Sophora secundiflora (Texas mountain laurel)
Gillespie, Annie Paulson
Mescal bean or Texas mountain laurel is an evergreen, usually multi-trunked shrub or small tree ranging from just a few feet tall to more than 30 ft. in height, though its usual height at maturity is 10-15 ft. The dense, dark green, and glossy compound leaves are composed of 79 shiny, leathery leaflets that are rounded on the ends. The leaflets are up to 2 inches or more long, tapering more gradually to the base than to the tip, and arranged along an axis terminated by a single leaflet . The bluish lavender flowers, in 3-7 in. drooping clusters, are very showy and fragrant. The fruit is a semi-woody pod with bright red poisonous seeds.

Sophora secundiflora is very popular as a native evergreen ornamental tree within its range, valued for its handsome, dark green foliage and lush early spring blooms. It is drought-tolerant, prefers rocky limestone soil, and is native from central Texas west to New Mexico and south to San Luis Potosi in Mexico. Like many woody plants native to rocky soils, it is slow growing. The fragrance of Texas mountain laurel flowers is reminiscent of artificial grape products. The brilliant, lacquer red seeds were valued by indigenous people for ornament and ceremonial use; they contain the highly poisonous alkaloid cytisine (or sophorine), a substance related to nicotine and widely cited as a narcotic and hallucinogen.

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Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Shrub , Tree
Leaf Retention: Evergreen
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Leaf Complexity: Pinnate
Leaf Pubescence: Glabrous
Leaf Margin: Entire
Leaf Texture: Leathery
Breeding System: Flowers Unisexual , Monoecious
Inflorescence: Raceme
Size Notes: 10-20 feet
Leaf: Green
Flower: Racemes 5-15 cm long
Fruit: Seedpods gray with a felt-like surface texture, aging to dark brown. Seeds glossy red. 2-12 cm
Size Class: 12-36 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Blue , Purple
Bloom Time: Feb , Mar
Bloom Notes: Bloom fragrance often compared to artificial grape products like grape Kool-Aid, grape bubble gum, grape soft drinks, etc. A pleasant but almost overpoweringly strong fragrance that can waft a considerable distance from the plant.

Distribution

USA: NM , TX
Native Distribution: S. & c. TX, w. to mts. of s. NM and s. to San Luis Potosi in Mexico
Native Habitat: Brushy slopes; open plains. Common in limestone soils. Well-drained sand, loam, clay, caliche, limestone.

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low , Medium
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist , Dry
Soil pH: Alkaline (pH>7.2)
CaCO3 Tolerance: High
Drought Tolerance: High
Cold Tolerant: yes
Heat Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Dry, rocky, well-drained, preferably calcareous soils. Sandy, Sandy Loam, Medium Loam, Clay Loam, Clay
Conditions Comments: Needs good drainage.

Benefit

Use Ornamental: This species is often cultivated in warm regions for the shiny, evergreen foliage and large showy flowers. S. secundiflora is readily available as a small to medium sized propagated plant.
Use Wildlife: Blooms attract insect pollinators.
Use Medicinal: Crushed beans boiled in water, strained & liquid poured in aching ears. (Weiner)
Use Other: Used by Native Americans for hallucinogenic drug. (Tull) Native Americans made necklaces as well as a narcotic powder from the seeds.
Warning: The brilliant red seeds contain the highly poisonous alkaloid cytisine (or sophorine) - this substance is related to nicotine and is widely cited as a narcotic and hallucinogen.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Fragrant Flowers: yes
Interesting Foliage: yes
Attracts: Butterflies
Deer Resistant: High

Last Update: 2011-03-08