The Texas Mountain Laurel (Calia secundiflora) is well-known for its pendulous clusters of purple, fragrant flowers that look as good as they smell. This popular plant is often used as a flowering, evergreen shrub but, with time and proper pruning, it can be trained to grow as a small, multi-trunked tree. It grows slowly from 8 to 15 feet tall with a 6 to 10 foot spread. Its multiple trunks support a disperse canopy of glossy green leaves. In the spring, Texas Mountain Laurel produces bright purple, drooping clusters of fragrant flowers. Its flowers have a sweet fragrance that resembles grape Kool-Aid™. By mid summer, the flowers fade and give rise to fuzzy, tan colored seed pods. The small, orange seeds are poisonous, but the seed pods and the seed coats are hard and fairly difficult to crack. A native to Mexico, New Mexico and the Hill Country of Texas, Calia secundiflora is easily adapted to high temperatures, alkaline soils and intense sunshine. It mixes well with cactus and other desert adapted plants adding a unique color, texture and fragrance to the landscape.
Texas Mountain Laurel has a slow growth rate. Purchase a 15-gallon specimen from a nursery to enjoy its immediate beauty. Transplant it in the spring or fall. Texas mountain laurel likes rocky soils, but it will tolerate planting in or near turf, as long as the soil is deep and drains well. Although it can survive on annual rainfall, supplemental irrigation is usually required in central and southern Arizona. It does best when planted in full sun locations and given deep, regular irrigations. Newly planted Texas mountain laurel needs watering every 3-4 days for the first few weeks. Then, water every 4-7 days for the first year. Water established plants every week in the summer, every 2-3 weeks in the spring and once a month in the fall and winter. Train Texas mountain laurel into a small tree by continually shearing low growing branches and elevating the crown during the growing season. If overly pruned, it is slow to recover. Texas mountain laurel is not normally susceptible to disease. One pest to be concerned about is the genista caterpillar
that feeds on its leaves, young twig growth and immature seed pods. Young Texas mountain laurel trees should be checked frequently for caterpillar infestations. Remove the caterpillars by hand or with water spray from a garden hose. Severe infestations of genista caterpillars may be treated with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a bacterial insecticide that only kills the caterpillars.