So What Is a Mountain Laurel, Anyway?

Before we ever moved back to South Central Texas, and after we’d decided on this location for our building site, we came across a diminutive tree during one of our rambles. Of course this place is full of diminutive trees, most of which we’d be happy to be rid of, but I could tell by sight that this was no common trash. After thumbing through Neil Sperry’s Complete Guide to Texas Gardening, I determined that it was a Texas mountain laurel. Sometimes considered more a shrub than a tree, the Texas mountain laurel is evergreen, with dark, glossy foliage and sweetly fragrant springtime blooms in purple orchid clusters. It’s slow-growing but durable, as evidenced by this particular specimen’s survival of decades of neglect. Ann thinks it was planted by a lady who lived here long ago and kept a beautiful garden. This estimable little tree is native to Southwest Texas and actually prefers alkaline soil.

Right away I claimed the mountain laurel as my very own and named my blog after it. The actual pad site for our house was chosen with this tree in mind. It stands in the back yard, near a gate that leads out to the old home site. I can see it from kitchen window and the French doors in the dining room.

It bloomed last year, our first year in the house, but only briefly, perhaps stressed by the drought. This year it’s putting on a splendid show. Now that Greg has cleared so much of the old home site with his chainsaw, the dark foliage and violet blooms, in Anna’s words, “really pop.”

Serendipitously, another tree growing close to the mountain laurel turned out to be a bois d’arc, presumably male, as it hasn’t fruited. Like the mountain laurel, it is native to the area and very durable. Its tough orangy wood and yellow fall color make it an attractive resident of the yard. I think of it as Greg’s tree, though I suspect he rarely thinks of it at all.

Today I took Bridget for a walk down Baker Road, past leafing elms, tasseling oaks, and pastures bright with Persian carpets of phlox, bluebonnets, and Indian paintbrushes. Contented cows stood stolidly in green grass, long stems trailing out their mouths, heads slowly revolving in unison to follow us as we passed. Not the cleverest of God’s creatures, are cows, but they have their charm. Oil jacks bobbed in the distance, and cardinals flitted about and had their say. At one low spot in the road, Bridget and I crossed an inch or so of running water. Elms flourished in this spot, surrounded by water the color of mocha frappuccino.

One comment on “So What Is a Mountain Laurel, Anyway?

  1. I love the mountain laurels around here. I’ve long said that they would be the perfect tree, with their beautiful, redolent blossoms and lovely, waxy leaves, if it weren’t for the fact that their seed pods look like cat poop. The seeds are beautiful too once they escape, though!

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