The Texas mountain laurel, also known as a mescal bean tree or by its scientific name Sophora secundiflora, is a flowering, evergreen tree native to Texas and New Mexico. The Texas mountain laurel is capable growing to about 35 feet (10.7 m) tall and 20 feet (6.1 m) wide, but it can be pruned so it is much shorter and not nearly as wide. Many times, these fragrant-smelling trees are planted along streets, in yards, and near patios.
Generally, the Texas mountain laurel has pinnate leaves that are alternately arranged so there are seven or nine leaves around each stem. The leaves are green in color and can grow to about 6 inches (15.2 cm) long. This species of tree is loved because of its long, fragrant clusters of tiny purple or blue flowers. The flowers are typically 1 inch (about 2.5 cm) long. After the flowers fall, they are followed by pods filled with red seeds that are toxic.
The Texas mountain laurel is a slow growing tree that produces fewer flowers if it is planted in an area with cool summer and cold winter temperatures. These trees need the heat associated with the summer months of Texas to bloom and grow. In fact, in the US it typically blooms from the middle of winter until the early months of spring, making it an unlikely candidate for cooler climates. It also needs moderate water and alkaline soil, or soil with a pH above seven.
People like to be around the Texas mountain laurel because its flowers are incredibly fragrant. To many individuals, the fragrance is similar to that of artificial grape scent, such as the smell of grape-flavored chewing gum or grape-scented lip balm. Although the flowers smell sweet, the seeds that grow in pods after the flowers fall to the ground are poisonous. In fact, they are believed to be a hallucinogen and a form of narcotic. Young children and animals should be kept away from the seeds for safety purposes.
People wanting to add the Texas mountain laurel to their landscaping can find them at most home garden stores, particularly in areas with mild temperatures throughout the year. Stores in cooler climates will not typically stock this tree because it will not grow well in those areas. Some people have grown the trees from seeds, but many consider the process to be too slow and labor intensive.