Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Time again for Texas mountain laurel, and hardly the normal time for something else

with 51 comments

By February 18th I was already finding flowers on the Texas mountain laurels (Sophora secundiflora) in Austin. These two views are from the Southwest Greenway at the Mueller development in east-central Austin.

If it was time for Texas mountain laurel, mid-February was months before the normal time
for the common sunflower (Helianthus annuus), one of which I also found flowering there.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

UPDATE: I see the scientific name for Texas mountain laurel has been changed to Dermatophyllum secundiflorum.

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 24, 2019 at 4:48 AM

51 Responses

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  1. You’re killing me. I couldn’t stand the fog and rain any longer, so I made a drive up to Kerrville, and there seems to be nothing in bloom. The landscape still is generally brown, and the buds on the mountain laurel nearby are the size of pencil leads — a good reminder of just how different things can be from region to region. There certainly don’t seem to be any sunflowers — let alone this glorious mountain laurel — but there is sunshine, so too much grumping would be out of order. We’ll see what we see when we get out and about.


    February 24, 2019 at 5:35 AM

    • Your primaveral death is probably premature, given this morning’s springy post over at Lagniappe. That aside, I’m sorry you’re not finding some good wildflowers in the Kerrville area. That part of the Texas is cooler enough that it lags behind Austin and the coast. Maybe today’s sunshine where you are will bring better finds. Some places here still have their toned-down winter look while others are greening out.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 24, 2019 at 7:00 AM

    • By the way, someone at the NPSoT meeting here on Tuesday reported seeing Maximilian sunflowers. Whether that’s a holdover through our mild winter or a half-year-early prodigy, I don’t know.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 24, 2019 at 7:05 AM

      • In another by-the-way, I surprised myself by almost getting to Austin yesterday. I took a wholly different route to miss all the construction on I-10 and around San Antonio, and ended up in Wimberly. Austin’s always felt a world away, but it certainly isn’t. Maybe this will be the spring I finally visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.


        February 24, 2019 at 7:22 AM

        • You probably just passed through Wimberley, but if you find yourself there again with some time for nature, it has several pleasant places to visit. I can let you know what they are.

          As for the Wildflower Center, you won’t be surprised to hear that spring is the best time to visit.

          Steve Schwartzman

          February 24, 2019 at 7:31 AM

  2. I was hooked on the first Texas Mountain Laurel I ever smelled. Needless to say, they don’t like our humid wet climate. I have a very small and slow growing one that came up from a seed of a laurel that died.

    automatic gardener

    February 24, 2019 at 8:09 AM

  3. Texas mountain laurels have gorgeous flowers – they look a bit like the Jacaranda tree or the Wisteria flowers. Are they scented? Have I asked this before? 😀

    As for unusual flowering at this time of year, it would seem this February is rather crazy!


    February 24, 2019 at 9:34 AM

    • I’m with you about the resemblance to Wisteria, which is in the same botanical family as Texas mountain laurel. (Jacaranda, however, is in a different family and from what I see online it has trumpet-shaped flowers.) I don’t remember whether you asked about the scent of Texas mountain laurel flowers, but I’ll say in no uncertain terms that it’s strong. Some people find it so strong as to be cloying. It’s been likened to the aroma of grape-flavored Kool-Aid (I don’t know if you have that stuff in the UK).

      Central Texas has had a mild winter, and some species of plants have taken advantage of it to keep on flowering past the autumn or two begin flowering ahead of the usual schedule. I was already seeing some species of spring-blooming wildflowers coming out in January.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 24, 2019 at 10:12 AM

      • I have had some summer flowering plants flowering all through the winter, though smaller blooms than usual. I shall give them a trim a bit later.


        February 24, 2019 at 10:53 AM

        • Sounds like you’ve been emulating Texas. Now all you have to do is start talking with a twang.

          Steve Schwartzman

          February 24, 2019 at 11:49 AM

          • I can do twang. I once played a ‘pirtee young gal’ in a play when at school. Located somewhere in a Southern US state. Thinking back it seemed a bit risque for teenagers!


            February 24, 2019 at 1:34 PM

            • But you were a ‘pirtee young gal’ back then! What you say puts you ahead of me: I’ve lived in Texas since 1976 but I’ll never talk with a twang and have retained my standard Northeast speech pattern all these years.

              Steve Schwartzman

              February 24, 2019 at 2:11 PM

              • I copy accents (badly usually). Often without consciously doing so. Not sure what my accent is now as I have lived all over the place.


                February 24, 2019 at 5:43 PM

  4. It has been such a mild winter this year here in Austin. I have a Helianthus annuus in my yard that has bloomed off and on all winter long. I have never thought that could be possible. Seems like a nice thing but it is also worrying.

    Anima Monday

    February 24, 2019 at 11:12 AM

    • A mild winter indeed. What you say about your Helianthus annuus blooming on and off all winter matches my observation: I saw sunflowers in the median on Mopac in January. One person even reported some Maximilian sunflowers recently. In the 20 years I’ve been noticing such things, this is by no means the only mild winter where I’ve seen species flowering at unexpected times. The winter that followed the dreadful drought of 2011 comes to mind:


      Steve Schwartzman

      February 24, 2019 at 11:47 AM

      • Just got back from a walk through Mueller. Off the main trails the white sweet clover (Melilotus alba) is in full bloom! I think of that as a May flower. Crazy.

        Anima Monday

        February 24, 2019 at 4:54 PM

        • I’ve also seen plenty of that around town. We saw a redbud blossoming at Mueller last week, and you may have too. It’s spring!

          Steve Schwartzman

          February 24, 2019 at 6:00 PM

  5. The beautiful top image reminds me of William Morris wallpaper.


    February 24, 2019 at 11:18 AM

    • I can see why. You and Linda are both William Morris aficionadas.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 24, 2019 at 11:47 AM

      • 🙂 I like that whole movement, although the Pre-Raphaelites were a bit odd.


        February 25, 2019 at 7:52 AM

  6. The cherry trees are in bloom here, which is even earlier than last year, which was a month early. The temperatures are staying above freezing at night, but I doubt the blooms will survive very long. This weather is so weird.



    February 24, 2019 at 7:32 PM

    • Modern statistics and genetics confirm what Heraclitus and other ancients taught, that the nature of the world is change. Certainly we see that in the weather. Some might say that what would be weird is if the weather doesn’t change. Oh well, enough philosophizing: let’s hope your cherry blossoms survive.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 24, 2019 at 8:51 PM

  7. A scent of grape-flavored Kool-Aid sounds kind of nice. I realize that this is a big country, and I haven’t yet seen a lot of it, but it seems surreal to see sunflowers in particular, when it’ll be 1 F. here tomorrow night. Boy, this mountain laurel is quite a sight, really beautiful! It’s quite different from the mountain laurel I’ve seen in the Poconos.

    Robert Parker

    February 24, 2019 at 9:52 PM

    • My mountain laurels came in the opposite order from yours. Texas mountain laurels are a common springtime sight in Austin, so I learned to recognize them early on. Through my relatively-lately-acquired interest in native plants I eventually became aware of the mountain laurel in the east. On last year’s visit to Massachusetts I finally got to photograph one:


      The difference in our latitudes means that on average Austin will always have more wildflowers earlier in the spring than you will up north, but the sunflower in February strikes us as strange, too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 25, 2019 at 6:43 AM

  8. Sigh. So now you are finding flowers even earlier than usual while we are still mired in winter. Strong gusts today up to 65 mph along with snow squalls and then a winter storm hinted at for later this week. So I will just enjoy your flowers vicariously at a couple of thousand mile distance.

    Steve Gingold

    February 25, 2019 at 1:38 PM

    • Then happy vicarious wildflowers to you. While a last freeze here is still possible, at the moment (64°) it’s not looking likely. Up there in the meantime you’ll get to play with some more of your luscious ice patterns—assuming you don’t get blown away in the process.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 25, 2019 at 3:06 PM

      • We’ll see. It will be cold enough at night to form ice and daytime temps in the high 20s to low 30s but snow and sleet at the end of the week may obscure it. Snow isn’t too bad but the sleet really turns everything into a thick whitish nothing. However, the cold may yield some more frozen cascades.

        Steve Gingold

        February 25, 2019 at 3:30 PM

      • Oh yeah. The wind. It has sounded like a passing freight train all day. Longest train ever. I just went out and cleared our side street of all the debris blown off our pine trees..for now. The wind will continue for several more hours. I kept expecting to bet bonked by a branch.

        Steve Gingold

        February 25, 2019 at 3:32 PM

        • That’s funny: “Longest train ever.” Sounds like an honest-to-goodness blizzard. I’m relieved you didn’t get bonked.

          Steve Schwartzman

          February 25, 2019 at 3:41 PM

          • Thank goodness we’ve only had snow squalls. I can’t imagine the destruction this would create if it was a serious nor’easter.

            Steve Gingold

            February 25, 2019 at 3:44 PM

  9. Hey, this is something that I actually tried to grow from seed from Texas. Sadly, it was lost in a move. They are not available in nurseries here.


    February 25, 2019 at 3:46 PM

    • It’s quite popular here for residences and some commercial properties.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 25, 2019 at 3:53 PM

      • It seems like it should be available here too. It looks pretty. I really do not know its personality though.


        February 26, 2019 at 12:11 AM

  10. Even though I look forward to some spring colors, I don’t want nature to awaken too prematurely, because of all the wrong signals.


    February 26, 2019 at 11:47 PM

    • That’s occasionally happened here at this time of year: spring plants come out, only to get whacked by a brief freeze. The low this weekend in Austin is predicted to be 36°, probably not cold enough to harm the newly emerging flowers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 27, 2019 at 5:19 AM

  11. Wonderful photos Steve .. that close up of the laurel is special. But then purple is my favourite colour 🙂


    March 1, 2019 at 5:23 PM

    • That’s good to know; we have lots of purple wildflowers here, including some with “blue” in their name.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 1, 2019 at 5:43 PM

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