What is a Texas Ebony?

Steve R.

A Texas ebony (Pithecellobium flexicaule) is an evergreen that varies from a stunted shrub to a large tree. Known for the zigzag pattern of its branches, the Texas Ebony typically ranges 15 to 30 feet (about 4.6 to 9 meters) in height, with a maximum height of 40 feet (about 12 meters). The evergreen also possesses a 15- to 20-foot (about 4.6- to 6-meter) spread and creamy yellow and white flowers. The Texas Ebony inhabits floodplains and grasslands in Texas and northern Mexico and is suitable for growing in arid landscapes.

Texas ebony seeds are often used in jewelry making.
Texas ebony seeds are often used in jewelry making.

Also known as the ebony blackbeard, false acacia, Mexican Ebony, or ape’s earring, the Texas ebony’s fragrant white and yellow flowers bloom at the end of branches from June to August. Flowers typically are 1.6 inches (about 4 centimeters) long. Scattered among the branches are short thorns. Leaves are dark green and situated on stems up to 2 inches (about 5 centimeters) in length. The trunk of the Texas ebony is smooth in texture and gray in color.

Texas ebony evergreen shrubs can tolerate drought.
Texas ebony evergreen shrubs can tolerate drought.

The evergreen also sports dark colored flat legumes approximately 5 inches (about 13 centimeters) long and 1 inch (about 2.5 centimeters) wide. These legumes mature in the autumn and may stay on the evergreen for a year or more. The dark brown or black seeds, similar in shape to beans, were once used in Mexico as an alternative to coffee beans. Mexicans used to boil the evergreen’s seeds before they ripened or roasted the hard seeds when they did ripen.

Drought tolerant, the Texas ebony is capable of growing in almost any kind of soil, including clay and desert soil. The evergreen grows best in well-drained areas with complete or partial sunlight. A slow growing tree, the evergreen particularly slows in growth after it extends between 12 and 18 inches (about 31 and 46 centimeters). A hearty evergreen, the Texas evergreen is capable of surviving in temperatures as low as 10 degree Fahrenheit (about -12 Celsius). As it grows in tropical conditions, the evergreen usually does not become fully dormant.

The Texas ebony can also serve as a bonsai tree or as a shade tree. The ebony’s dark red wood is often used to make furniture and fence posts. Seeds can also be consumed or used in making jewelry. Wild animals often use the evergreen for cover. Deer also consume its leaves and seeds, and bees use the evergreen’s flowers.

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