Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Texas mountain laurel flowering

with 30 comments

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Texas mountain laurel, Sophora secundiflora, is an evergreen shrub or small tree that has been flowering all over Austin for the past couple of weeks. Some say its blossoms smell like grape Kool-Aid, and people are generally split when it comes to that aroma, with one faction finding it wonderful and the other cloying. This picture, taken at the Mueller Greenway on February 19, shows how dense and appealing the clusters of flowers can be.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 24, 2012 at 5:24 AM

30 Responses

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  1. Steve, It sure resembles Wisteria! I don’t recall what the leaves look like on Wisteria, though. Does it grow as a shrub? ~Kyle


    February 24, 2012 at 5:31 AM

    • Like Texas mountain laurel, wisteria is in the pea family, which accounts for some (or a lot) of the flowers’ resemblance. But wisteria is a vine, whereas Texas mountain laurel is a shrub or small tree. Although the familiar wisteria that a lot of people plant in gardens is from Asia, there’s an American species, Wisteria frutescens, that grows as far west as eastern Texas but doesn’t make it to Austin.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 24, 2012 at 6:24 AM

  2. Beautiful…but grape Kool-Aid really?


    February 24, 2012 at 6:51 AM

    • Really, that’s what a lot of people say. I just did an Internet search for Texas mountain laurel grape Kool-Aid and got over 8000 hits.

      For example, look at this amusing account from the “Ask Mr. Smarty Plants” feature of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center:


      Steve Schwartzman

      February 24, 2012 at 7:12 AM

      • LOL…even in Africa. That’s amazing!


        February 24, 2012 at 7:18 AM

      • And I just noticed, while looking at the information that WordPress provides me, that someone was led here by doing an Internet search for “smells like kool aid, shrub plant.”

        Steve Schwartzman

        February 24, 2012 at 8:16 PM

  3. That’s a beautiful plant. I wish it would grow in New Hampshire!

    New Hampshire Gardener

    February 24, 2012 at 6:58 AM

    • When it comes to “Live free or die,” I’m afraid this little tree of warm climates would die up there.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 24, 2012 at 7:14 AM

  4. Lovely! 🙂


    February 24, 2012 at 7:12 AM

    • Too bad I can’t send the scent along with the picture.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 24, 2012 at 7:14 AM

      • lol…that would be great if you could! but the description of what it smells like certainly helps. 🙂


        February 24, 2012 at 7:22 AM

  5. This is beautiful…my first thought was Wisteria also!


    February 24, 2012 at 7:29 AM

  6. When I follow my daughter to Austin this will be growing in my garden! lol

    Bonnie Michelle

    February 24, 2012 at 9:51 AM

    • Then I’ll wish you a future welcome to Austin and its many native plants. You’ll already be familiar with so many of them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 24, 2012 at 10:00 AM

  7. WoW! In this shot it reminds me of wisteria. Mmmm grape cool-aid, loved it as a child, but it is definitely not an adult flavor for me. 😉 ~ Lynda


    February 24, 2012 at 2:34 PM

    • The geographic distribution of this species is limited, so a lot more people are familiar with wisteria. For me it’s the reverse. Grape Kool-Aid aside, the adult in you might still savor the scent of these flowers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 24, 2012 at 2:39 PM

  8. […] I photographed some of the Texas mountain laurels, Sophora secundiflora, at the Mueller Greenway on February 19, I noticed that the most common […]

  9. I’ve never heard the grape Kool-Aid description. The scent connoisseurs I know prefer to describe it as “pink bubble gum”.

    It’s a beautiful plant. One of these years I’d like to see it flowering. I had a quart jar filled withs its seeds for sometime, until I found out they were poisonous and got rid of them, just in case the cat was more agile than I think. I’ve been told that even honey made by bees that visit mountain laurel can be toxic. Pretty amazing.


    February 26, 2012 at 5:03 PM

    • When you finally find one that’s flowering you can decide between bubble gum and Kool-Aid, or maybe something else. The seeds are indeed toxic, and also hallucinogenic; another name for the plant is mescal bean, which may remind you of mescaline.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 26, 2012 at 6:39 PM

  10. Beautiful color! If I hadn’t seen the title of the post, I might have mistaken it for wisteria until I got a closer look at the leaves.


    February 27, 2012 at 2:44 PM

    • You weren’t alone, Robin, in thinking about wisteria; many more people are familiar with it than they are with Texas mountain laurel, whose geographic distribution in the United States is limited to Texas and New Mexico. It’s native in Austin, where many people plant it in their yards as an ornamental.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 27, 2012 at 3:00 PM

  11. I can smell that Mountain Laurel. Divine.


    March 11, 2012 at 10:02 AM

  12. All these flowers in February….sigh… 🙂
    This shrub is gorgeous and, like you said, very appealing.

    Inspired and pretty

    May 29, 2012 at 9:54 PM

    • I often suggest to people in cold climates that when they’ve gone through November, December, and January and gotten to February, and are so tired of freezing temperatures, barren landscapes, and grey skies, they should take a trip to central or southern Texas for a week to get a foretaste of spring.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 29, 2012 at 9:58 PM

  13. There are some questions about whether or not the flowers smell like grape koolaid. I say no. More specifically they smell like grape hard candies! It’s like walking through a candy store when you pass one. It’s amazing!


    August 12, 2012 at 7:30 PM

    • It may have to have to do with people’s olfactory receptors; some folks seem predisposed to smell the Kool-Aid, and others not. In any case, these are flowers that make their presence known even when someone’s eyes are closed.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 13, 2012 at 8:47 AM

  14. […] And this Turkish phrase means ‘spring flowers.’ I can’t be sure which post the person got taken to, but that day there were three page views from Turkey and three viewings of a Texas mountain laurel post. […]

  15. […] I guess that would be a Texas mountain laurel. […]

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