Texas mountain laurel or mescal bean 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 7-9 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. Young fruits are large, thick, leathery pods that appear brownish gray because of a layer of silky pubescence, which gives the pods a silvery luster. The fruits mature in mid to late summer and they persist on the plant through the winter. The seeds are usually deep red but can be orangish red to almost maroon. They are also very hard.
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. The seeds were used to make necklaces.
Texas Mountain Laurel occurs in south-central and western Texas, New Mexico, and southward in Mexico to San Luis Potosí. It is typically found on slopes, between 1,000 and 5,000 feet in elevation. It grows on brushy slopes and open plains. Common in limestone soils. It is in the legume family. It bears a resemblance to the mountain laurel (which is in the rhododendron family) because of its shrubby, rounded form, evergreen leaves and clusters of showy flowers. Although Mescal Bean is another common name for the plant, it bears no relation to the Agave species used to make the spirit mezcal. This species is often cultivated in warm regions for the shiny, evergreen foliage and large showy flowers. It has a slow growth rate and is drought tolerant. It prefers to grow in well-drained alkaline soils. It is deer resistant. The colorful flowers attract butterflies. Zones 7-11.
- Scarify the seeds by nicking or sanding the seed coat.
- Soak the seed in water for several hours.
- The seeds like moist, well-drained soil. Prepare a mixture of half potting soil and half sand, perlite or vermiculite. Put the soil in a pot. Water the mixture so that it is moist but not wet.
- Put the seeds on the soil.
- Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil.
- Water the seeds.
- Place the pots in an area in full sun or part shade. The seeds germinate in 1-4 weeks.
- When the seedlings are a few inches tall, they can be transplanted.