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Milberger's Nursery and Landscaping
3920 North Loop 1604 E.
San Antonio, TX 78247

Three exits east of 281, inside of 1604
Next to the Diamond Shamrock station
Please click map for more detailed map and driving directions.

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It must be March—the questions about the purple-blue blooms hanging in clusters and having the wonderful scent of grape chewing gum have begun!! People are once again enjoying the large evergreen shrub that grows all over South/Central Texas and is referred to as the Texas Mountain Laurel. The scientific name of the Texas Mt. Laurel is Sophora secundiflora. The genus name, Sophora, is from the Arabic name, Sophero, and the species name, secundiflora, refers to the one-sided inflorescence. Other vernacular names are the Mescal Bean, Frigolito, Frijollito, Frijolillo, Coral Bean, Big-Drunk Bean, and Colorin. The Mt. Laurel is practically indestructible as a landscape plant. It will survive in our poor alkaline soils. The plant is native to the limestone soils in central, southern, and western Texas, New Mexico, and northern Mexico. It is not the same Mt. Laurel found in the Eastern United States–that species will not survive in our area of Texas and our Texas Mt. Laurel does poorly in those “foreign” areas.

Nothing seems to bother the hardy, drought-tolerant, grow-in-a-stone Mt. Laurel. Hard freezes (below 20 degrees F.) eliminate blooms but won't kill the plants. These natives seem resistant to the dreaded cotton root rot fungus which is deadly to 90 percent of all other Texas landscape plants. No foliage disease bothers the glossy, evergreen leaves. Every now and then foliage worms may devour some leaves but the plant comes right back. Because the Mt. Laurel is an evergreen shrub or tree which can be 8 to 12 feet tall or taller (30 feet), this may be the ideal privacy plant for this area of Texas. What other evergreen is so durable and adapted- None! Plus this native plant blooms in the spring!

These beautiful plants are the answer to many of this area's most serious plant problems. In the past, this outstanding landscape plant was only available as balled-and-burlapped (B-and-B) plants in the nurseries. Large B-and-B trees and shrubs dug from the wild are very expensive because of the tremendous amount of labor involved in digging the plant, burlapping it and hauling it. The newly dug B-and-B Mt. Laurels must then be cured (stood in a location to see if the plant decides to live or die) for 3 months until sprouting occurs.

As many as 50 percent of all Mt. Laurels dug do not survive this process. It is no wonder that your cost for a 4 to 8 foot, multi-trunk Mt. Laurel may be over $300! Because of some innovative work in propagating native plants of Texas by Lone Star Growers in San Antonio, Mt. Laurels are now available as container-grown plants and are very affordable. For years these plants were described as "slow growing" and impossible to grow economically in containers. Modern technology and persistence have paid off. Large, containerized plants are currently available in local nurseries. Plants 3 to 4 feet tall in five-gallon containers cost less than $25 each. Smaller plants one to two feet tall in one-gallon containers cost less than $7. As the plants begin to flower and the demand for this beautiful well-adapted plant increases, some nurseries actually sale the small plants for less than $3 and the larger plants for less than $17.

With the availability of inexpensive containerized Mt. Laurel's, you can use these evergreen, blooming plants for creating a privacy hedge or shrub mass. Every good landscape in this area should now contain several Mt. Laurels. To plant these containerized plants, simply dig the hole as wide but no deeper than the container. Use the soil pulled out of the hole to fill in around the plant or as your back-fill soil. Make a circular dam around the hole (this makes watering easier). Water in thoroughly after transplanting to settle the soil around the root system.

Now you know the prices of the plant sizes and you know how to plant the size you purchase but, do you know which size to purchase. To determine this for your landscape, you simply dig the holes for the plants BEFORE you go to the nursery to purchase the plants. Sounds simple, doesn’t it. This is the BEST advice you will ever get for planting trees and shrubs in this area of Texas. When planting a hedge or shrub mass, space the 5-gallon plants 5 to 6 feet apart and the one-gallon plants 3 feet apart. The gallon-size plants require a hole 12 inches deep; the 5-gallon size requires hole at least twice that deep. After you realize you can only dig 6 inches deep in your landscape and you will have to blast to go any deeper, you will quickly decide to buy the gallon-size plants. You can dig as deep as you can, even if that is 4-6 inches and then cover the remainder of the root ball or system with potting mix or purchased soil. Believe it or not, this is the BEST way to plant Mt. Laurel because it grows as a native in rocks and is only killed by planting in an area which has poor drainage. The persistent, shiny leaves of the Texas Mt. Laurel give a lustrous effect when seen in dense masses as you drive through the rocky, Hillcountry around Leaky, Campwood and Rocksprings in April. Be careful not to water these newly planted plants too much. They need only moderate watering. Check for moisture by digging with your finger around the base of the plants - if moist, don't water or you will rot the roots.

The plant is picturesque at any age. When barely more than a twig the plant bears fragrant, 8-inch long, violet-blue (there is also a rare white form) clusters of pea-shaped flowers early in spring. Decorative, woody, silver-gray pods follow and split open in late summer to reveal bright red beans (frijolitos). They are poisonous, but their outer coat is so hard it is believed they will pass through the digestive system without harm. I was infatuated by the name "Big-Drunk Bean." It seems that the bean of the Texas Mt. Laurel contains a hallucinogen chemical (cytisine). In the old days Indians used to crush some beans, mix with liquors, and have some real far-out parties. However, since the beans can be poisonous, moderation was the key to survival. Too many beans in the brew resulted in dead party goers. There was a fine line between drunk and dead.

These red beans were prized by Indians. In fact, Indians believed that a necklace of Mt. Laurel Beans presented as a gift to someone would protect that person from bodily harm. The red beans were so valued as an ornament that they were actually used as Indian currency. The redder the beans, the higher the currency value. Of course, Texans for years have enjoyed using these red beans to “burn your buddy”. Bored, resourceful children trying to create a bit of excitement would rub a red Mt. Laurel bean on the sidewalk until the friction would cause the tough skin of the bean to become burning hot. The troublemaker would then drop the hot bean down the britches, down the shirt or simply touch the tender skin of the intended victim to get an immediate and loud response. This used to be fun in the “good old days” but I should warn you old timers that schools have zero tolerances for bringing drugs to the campus and the Mt. Laurel bean IS CONSIDERED A DRUG. So instead of your child being amused by getting to “burn his buddy”, you WILL NOT find it amusing when your child is suspended for drug possession at school. This has happened several times in Texas so burners beware!

So there you have the story of a native Texas plant with the inappropriate name of Mountain Laurel making it big in landscapes. Enjoy the fragrance and enjoy the beauty of a Texas Mountain Laurel in your landscape. And DON’T be trying to get the recipe perfected–this plant is for beautifying the landscape–not sending you into a drugged state of euphoria.