One of the most anticipated signs of spring is the blooming of the Texas mountain laurel, which grows in abundance in our thin, rocky soil. As these trees begin flowering in late February, the air fills with their intense sweet scent, strongly reminiscent of grape soda.
Come early April, with those purple blossoms long gone, the mountain laurel is on its way to producing seeds for the following year. In the meantime, though, this year’s seed pods will have matured, perhaps even falling to the ground. If conditions are right, rain will soften the pods, leaving the bright red seeds to either sprout or remain in the soil beneath the tree to germinate later on.
It’s hard to imagine having too many mountain laurel trees, but that’s exactly what happens in many cases. One prolific mother tree can result in a multitude of “babies,” too many sometimes. Unfortunately, transplanting them can prove futile, mainly because mountain laurels spend their first couple of years developing extensive roots, making them particularly difficult to move.
When this dilemma occurs, there’s an easy way to reduce the number of unwanted seedlings and help the San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance in the process: Collect the seeds.
By this time of year, many of the bright red seeds may be visible on the ground beneath the mother tree. But seed pods can also be found either on or just beneath the surface of the soil, camouflaged amid the leaf litter. If that’s the case, you may have to run your hand through the leaves to find the pods, which by now may be softened or broken open, revealing the seed inside.
If seed pods remain on the tree, it’s likely that they’re mature enough by now to pick. These can be saved as is or opened, which might require cutting with a hand pruner or knife if the shell is still hard.
So how does this benefit the Greenbelt Alliance? Seeds such as those of the Texas mountain laurel can be collected and passed on to members of the new Team Flora, a group of SMGA members and Master Naturalists whose task it is to reseed natural areas. Working under the direction of City staff, they plant specifically in places where invasives have been removed, using the donated seeds of wildflowers, grasses, and understory trees.
Should you decide to collect seeds from your own mountain laurels, you can simply store them in a paper bag until you’re able to pass them on to a member of Team Flora. This will assure that they remain dry until they can be sown in one of the natural areas.
For information about connecting with Team Flora, email [email protected].
Photos of springtime flowers and nature at Upper Purgatory.