Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Texas mountain laurel

with 32 comments

The Texas mountain laurels (Sophora secundiflora) have been fragrantly—and some would say flagrantly—flowering all around Austin.

I took pictures of this Texas mountain laurel on March 13th along Shoal Creek Blvd. in north-central Austin. One of the tree’s branches rose well above the others:

The next day I visited the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, where I got close and photographed a Texas mountain laurel flower opening:

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 16, 2018 at 4:55 AM

32 Responses

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  1. This is another plant I didn’t want to miss this year. When another Austinite posted a photo of it in full bloom on her blog, I thought I was sunk. But I called a friend outside Kerrville who has quite a large tree, and she said hers have only just set buds, so I may get to see one bloom after all.

    Even more than wisteria, they remind me of the lilacs that I grew up with: both fragrance and flower. The density of the flowers on this one is akin to the redbud you showed. You must be having a very fine spring up there.


    March 16, 2018 at 6:38 AM

    • I’m glad to hear you won’t miss it this year. I get the impression that that part of the hill country averages a few degrees cooler than Austin, especially overnight, and that difference must be enough to have delayed your friend’s tree. The Texas mountain laurels in Austin are still at their peak and none that I’ve seen have started fading. You may see some good ones on your way to Kerrville if you get off the Interstate and drive through some of the towns. If you go via San Antonio, which seems likely, keep your eyes open for more fragrance (oh, synesthesia), this time in the form of huisache trees. We saw a few good ones near the San José Mission 10 days ago. The huisaches in Austin still haven’t done much.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 16, 2018 at 9:02 AM

  2. The first image looks like Hebes, but on closer inspection much woodier stems and the flowers completely different. But the colours are the same. Love the individual flower portrait. And fragrant? Wow!


    March 16, 2018 at 7:25 AM

    • I learned about Hebes in New Zealand, where many species originate. They’re in the Plantaginaceae, while Texas mountain laurel is a legume, as you probably noticed in the individual flower portrait. I don’t know if you have Kool-Aid in the UK:


      I bring that up because a lot of people say the flowers of Texas mountain laurel smell like grape Kool-Aid. Some people find the fragrance delightful while for others it’s so strong as to be cloying.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 16, 2018 at 9:10 AM

      • I went to find more photos and they look rather like wisteria which is in the same plant order (I think – Fabaceae – with some similar plants in Australia. )


        March 16, 2018 at 11:52 AM

        • You’re right that the legume family is known botanically as Fabaceae (think fava beans). Your comparison of Texas mountain laurel flowers to those of its family-mate wisteria is an apt one. Where wisteria is a woody vine, Texas mountain laurel is a small tree.

          Steve Schwartzman

          March 16, 2018 at 11:59 AM

  3. I loved Texas Mountain Laurel from the first time I smelled its unusual scent. Sadly, they do not like our climate on this end of Texas.

    automatic gardener

    March 16, 2018 at 7:27 AM

    • Now you’ve got an incentive to move to this part of the state. Okay, so that may not be feasible, but you can visit each year when the Texas mountain laurels are in bloom.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 16, 2018 at 9:15 AM

  4. While obviously a plant of an entirely different scale, this reminds me of the leaves and flowers of Lemon Thyme. 🙂


    March 16, 2018 at 7:59 AM

    • I had to look up lemon thyme to see what you’re envisioning. After you left your comment, I mentioned to a previous commenter that many people say the flowers of Texas mountain laurel smell to them like grape Kool-Aid (if you’re familiar with that). I gather that Thymus citriodorus has a lemony scent.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 16, 2018 at 9:20 AM

      • Have you ever had lemon sherbet sweets (I don’t know you if have them there – I’ve not met Kool-Aid here though I know what it is.) They are very, very lemony indeed with a sweet and acid sort of zing to them – this kind of thyme smells just like that. Grape Kool-Aid scented laurel. Interesting. 🙂


        March 16, 2018 at 12:00 PM

        • I looked up your lemon sherbet sweets and found that Bassetts is a popular brand. As far as I know, we don’t have that over here, though I imagine some American specialty shops may stock it.

          One thing that’s doubly confusing about Texas mountain laurel is its name. The plant is not a laurel (Lauraceae) or even a mountain laurel (genus Kalmia in the Ericaceae). Too bad someone couldn’t have come up with a unique vernacular name.

          Steve Schwartzman

          March 16, 2018 at 12:13 PM

          • The older lemon sherbets that I had as a kid (long, long ago) were much better than the ones today.
            Mmm… yeah, that is confusing.
            Talking of ‘real’ laurel, though, when I was a kid we had a laurel bush in our garden and my sister and I would make ‘boats’ from its leaves and float them in puddles. Did you ever do that? You need stiff, evergreen leaves for it.


            March 16, 2018 at 12:41 PM

            • No, I don’t recall making boats from leaves in New York. On the other hand, my wife is from the Philippines, and I’ve heard that children there do lots of things with banana leaves.

              Steve Schwartzman

              March 16, 2018 at 12:50 PM

  5. Beautiful…seems like everything came alive a week after I left Austin!

    Marcia Levy

    March 16, 2018 at 8:29 AM

    • At least when we drove around town you got to see plenty of redbuds flowering (though not the one in yesterday’s post). The Texas mountain laurels seem at their peak now. Bluebonnets have finally come out, including on an embankment that we passed regularly on Mopac. Too bad you couldn’t have come a few weeks later.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 16, 2018 at 9:24 AM

  6. Beautiful! I so love Texas Mountain Laurel. We don’t have it in Cypress like you see in th Texas Hill Country. Wish we did!


    March 16, 2018 at 9:01 AM

    • From Cypress to Austin is just a two-hour drive on US 290. You still have time to zip over and see the Texas mountain laurels while they’re at their peak. A good place to do that would be the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, where many other native plants are blooming now as well.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 16, 2018 at 9:30 AM

      • We just got back from Boerne when the Mountain Laurel seemed to come out overnight! We might need to make another quick trip though!! Lovely post! 💜


        March 16, 2018 at 2:59 PM

  7. How pretty!


    March 16, 2018 at 9:15 AM

  8. Beautiful! Nicely done!

    Reed Andariese

    March 16, 2018 at 11:44 AM

  9. Gorgeous… spring in full bloom!


    March 17, 2018 at 8:49 AM

  10. Someone else just recently wrote about another species of sophora. I actually grew this one from seed years ago, but had to give them away. We have nothing here comparable to them.


    March 17, 2018 at 11:29 PM

  11. Wow, this is so pretty! Almost enough to lure me to Texas! I notice that the areas of it being native that you mention above are all arid. sigh.


    April 4, 2018 at 8:53 AM

    • Well, it might still lure you for a springtime visit. You probably wouldn’t enjoy the half-year of summer heat that people who live here put up with.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 4, 2018 at 9:26 AM

  12. […] here we’ve got Texas mountain laurel. At the Garden in the Woods in Framingham, Massachusetts, on June 12th I finally got to see the […]

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