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Arboretum Spotlight: Smell the grape soda

Texas mountain laurel offers big, bold blooms.
Texas mountain laurel offers big, bold blooms.

This is one part in a weekly series featuring the UC Davis Arboretum’s “40 Plants You (Probably) Have Never Heard of – But Will Love,” 40 can’t-fail, easy-care, low-water plants well adapted to our region but hard to find.

Texas mountain laurel

Sophora secundiflora or Calia secundiflora

Size: Reaches 15 to 20 feet in height and 8 to 10 feet wide.

Bloom season: Purple clusters in March and April; blooms appear on branches that grew the previous year.

Exposure: Full sun.

Pruning needs: Shape as desired, either as bushy shrub or small tree.

Water needs: Very low water; once established, water deeply once a month or less.

Snapshot: Native to the deserts of West Texas, this handsome plant is also known as the “grape soda bush” because that’s the fragrance of its impressive wisterialike purple flowers. In Texas, this laurel is grown as a large and bushy shrub with multiple branches. In Sacramento, it’s often pruned into a small evergreen tree (with one main trunk) for very low water landscapes. It needs little irrigation – once a month in summer or less. It’s attractive year round with shiny dark-green leaves that grow 4 to 8 inches long. But it’s spectacular in spring with drooping clusters of sweet-smelling purple blooms. One drawback: Both the flowers and seeds can be poisonous, so this plant should be kept away from children and pets.

For more on “40 Plants,” click on arboretum.ucdavis.edu.