*Sniff, sniff* Mountain laurels are blooming in San Antonio & the Hill Country

Many say the blooms smell like artificial grape or ‘Kool-Aid’

Fragrant mountain laurel trees are in bloom! (Copyright KSAT 2024 - All rights reserved)

Picture it: It’s late February or early March in Texas. You’re out for a walk, enjoying a beautiful, sunny, comfortable day when all of a sudden you catch a whiff. Is that artificial grape? Kool-Aid?

Well, if you’ve lived in San Antonio and the Hill Country long enough, you know this familiar aroma. Mountain laurel trees are in full bloom!

Texas Mountain Laurel

The Texas mountain laurel, also called the “mescal bean” tree, is an evergreen shrub-like tree that is native to our area, thriving in the limestone soils of South-Central Texas.

The trees are drought-hardy, able to withstand the long, hot, and dry summer months. The beautiful and fragrant flowers of the mountain laurel only bloom for a couple of weeks in February and March.

The fruit of the tree is a hard pod that contains bright red, bean-like seeds.

If you grew up in San Antonio, the seeds are also called “frijolitos,” “fire beans,” or “hot rocks.” And for good reason! Perhaps you remember someone rubbing the seed on concrete, placing the seed on a nearby victim’s skin, creating a brief burning sensation.

The poisonous, red seeds of a mountain laurel tree. Sometimes called 'fire beans,' 'hot rocks,' or 'frijolitos.' (Copyright KSAT 2024 - All rights reserved)

The seeds are actually highly poisonous to humans. According to the Texas A&M Forest Service, “The seeds were used by Native Americans for ceremonial purposes, often in conjunction with the alcoholic drink, mescal.” That’s why the tree is sometimes known by the name “mescal bean.”

About the Author

Sarah Spivey is a San Antonio native who grew up watching KSAT. She has been a proud member of the KSAT Weather Authority Team since 2017. Sarah is a Clark High School and Texas A&M University graduate. She previously worked at KTEN News. When Sarah is not busy forecasting, she enjoys hanging out with her husband and cat, and playing music.

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