Plant This: Silver Peso Texas mountain laurel shines in spring

Spring may be the sweeter for breaking a hard winter’s grip, but we central Texans wouldn’t know. I can assure you, though, that spring is pretty darn sweet following a summer of devastating drought and record-breaking heat. Miraculously, despite predictions of a dry winter, we enjoyed a mild, wet winter. As they awaken, the plants are responding to the rains with abandon, and early signs point to a glorious Texas wildflower season ahead.

But way before bluebonnets carpet the fields, for me the true herald of spring is when the Texas mountain laurels bloom, and this year is one of the best I’ve seen. All over town these handsome native trees are festooned with cascades of purple blossoms. This image is from my former garden, to show you the deep-green, glossy leaves and rugged, dark trunk of Sophora secundiflora. It’s a beautiful small tree all year long but especially in early spring, when clusters of purple flowers hang like wisteria and scent the garden with the smell of grape Kool-Aid.

A silver variety called ‘Silver Peso’ is occasionally available for sale here. The silvery gray foliage, ornamented with dozens of cascading, deep-purple blossoms, is stunning. I spotted a trio of them in Cedar Park recently. They literally stopped me in my tracks, and I got out of my car to take a few pictures, which sadly do not convey the utter gorgeousness of this tree.

The silver foliage indicates supreme drought tolerance, and I suspect that it grows better farther west, in more-arid regions. Of course, central Texas had plenty of aridity last summer, but we do often have wet winters and some rain in summer. I would give ‘Silver Peso’ excellent drainage and little to no supplemental water after establishing it.

Whether growing the silver variety or the traditional green, you’re sure to fall in love with Texas mountain laurel, as undemanding as they come and showy to boot.

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Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

All material © 2006-2012 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

19 Responses

  1. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I have seen this blooming before when in TX. I didn’t know what it was then. It is so pretty.

    It’s one of the plants that made me fall in love with Austin, Lisa, a real beauty and so sweetly scented. —Pam

  2. I don’t remember this plant from when we were in Texas, what a beauty. Will have to read and see how far north it can go…have a sister in law in OKC that would love it.

    I’m afraid that might be too far north, Janet. But hey, with global warming it may grow there eventually. —am

  3. Beautiful! Great photos of those blooms, my favorite plant by far.

    I added a small ‘Silver Peso’ to my garden last fall and it has one bloom already. I was amazed to spot it yesterday so now the watch is on.

    Lucky you to have one, Shirley! I’ll be looking for pics on your blog. —Pam

  4. That is beautiful. That dark purple against the silver, is stunning.

    It really is, Linda. —Pam

  5. Scott Weber says:

    Wow…If only I could replace my plain, boring Laurel bush with one of those!

    Scott, despite its common name, Texas mountain laurel is not actually a laurel at all but a member of the pea family. Interesting, eh? —Pam

  6. I’ve never seen one of these before. Beautiful foliage.

    ‘Silver Peso’ is rare around here, Steph, but the species is found in gardens all over Austin and growing wild in the hills. —Pam

  7. All of our TX mountain laurels, including our two ‘Silver Pesos’, are absolutely covered with blooms. We have had some blooms on these plants in the past, but never anything like this spring. What a blessing after last year’s brutal summer. Love your photos of the ‘Silver Pesos’. They are well worth photographing. I find myself taking pictures of ours almost every day, trying to get that perfect shot :)

    The silver coloring makes ‘Silver Peso’ a bit hard to photograph, I found, but they are particularly beautiful. Lucky you to have two of them. —Pam

  8. Lea says:

    To have that lovely silvery foliage and wonderful purple blooms, too!
    Have a great week-end!
    Lea’s Menagerie

    Yep, it’s a good combo. Happy weekend to you too, Lea! —Pam

  9. Amazing…that is as early as they bloom in Phoenix in a warmer winter! I see the Silver Peso around Abq and think it came through last winter, though I only use them in designs in Las Cruces-El Paso. I have to wonder if it is from the Guadalupe Mtns? (I see people here call it Mescal Bean) Where’s Dave R from DFW? (he prob knows)

    Another silver foliaged Mtn Laurel is Gila Sophora / S. formosa…made it at a friend’s house S of Abq in a cold spot (z 7a), and his has flowered most springs for over a decade, except last year.

    I’m not familiar with Gila sophora and will go look it up. As for the Texas mountain laurel, this is a bumper year, helped perhaps by the mild winter. —Pam

  10. David R. says:

    The Silver Peso’s are Mexican. I saw some silver ones in Coahuila growing with Rosewood(Vauqelinia), Weeping Juniper(J.flaccida), Quercus invaginata and Quercus gravesii. The late Lynn Lowery used to collect those. Not sure where Mountain States collects from. Wonderful Plants! We are behind Austin by 2 or 3 weeks. Looking forward to the show!

    Thanks for the info, David R. Enjoy your grape Kool-Aid fragrance in 2-3 weeks! —Pam

  11. Katina says:

    It’s like this tree is popping up all over the place – I first saw it at Bob Beyer’s house (he has one in his backyard) then I saw that Carol had left a comment about their silver peso trees, and now this. I think the universe it telling me I need one…now where to plant it, where to plant it…

    That’s all the excuse you need, Katina. Go for it! —Pam

  12. Les says:

    Wow! That is really beautiful, more so that it needs little water.

    Yes, especially in these increasing years of drought. —Pam

  13. Cheryl says:

    Simply gorgeous in both forms. I don’t suppose it would like Sacramento? (I think we are in zone 9 now… must get the newest Sunset Garden Book!) LOL

    Cheryl, I really don’t know. It prefers alkaline, well-drained soil. I see it recommended for Arizona, and perhaps it’s native there too. I’m not sure how it would like California, but then again, what plant doesn’t? —Pam

  14. Lynn says:

    “Silver Peso” is so stunning with the silver and purple contrast. I’ve not seen any Texas Mountain Laurels in my area but will definitely be on the lookout for one this spring.

    No Texas mountain laurels in Lubbock? I’m surprised, but maybe it’s too cold for them there. —Pam

  15. Jenn says:

    Hmmm. I wonder if ‘Silver Peso’ will do well in the desert. The shiny leaved version survives our summers, it does seem to appreciate some light shade in our blistering sun, heat, and dry air.

    I so wish my landlord would let me plant in the ground…

    It’s a recommended tree for Phoenix gardens, so I think it would work for you, Jenn. Might be worth looking into—when you have a plot of ground to plant it in. It doesn’t make a good potted plant because it hates being transplanted. —Pam

  16. Robin says:

    Pam, I didn’t know that silver foliage was a good indicator of a drought tolerant plant. Thanks for the tip! And yes, what a year for the Mountain Laurels, isn’t it? And bluebonnets are next!

    It’s shaping up to be a spectacular spring. We deserve it after last summer, don’t we? —Pam

  17. murfnik says:

    I’m almost in Pflugerville and my Mountain Laurel isn’t blooming yet. It always lags behind. But…I saw one of my Japanese irises had popped out this morning, so maybe the Laurel won’t be far behind. I grew this 15′ tree from seed collected on campus and it’s one of my favorites.

    How wonderful to have seen your tree grow from seed to 15 feet! I hope it blooms for you soon. —Pam

  18. Kathy says:

    I have been a silent admirer of your blog site for a year now and love it. I have 4 acres in Washington County, midway between Houston and Austin and have spent 20 years restoring the prairie. Even though your focus isn’t on prairie you talk so eloquently about nature and your love of it that it is a delight to read.

    Washington County is a beautiful area—how wonderful that you are working to bring the native prairie back on your property. Have you seen my post about the restoration of grassland at Bamberger Ranch? It may interest you. And thank you so much for your kind words about my blog, Kathy! —Pam

  19. Deb Carroll says:

    I love this plant, but I live in an apartment in Houston. Any chance there is a form of it that will grow in a container on a fairly shaded deck?

    Hi, Deb. I’m sorry to discourage you, but ‘Silver Peso’ wants sun and arid conditions. I’d be surprised if it would do well in Houston’s humid, wet climate even in a sunny, in-ground spot. Sounds like you have great conditions for beautiful succulent planters though, especially if you get a little morning sun! —Pam