I spent the weekend visiting my parents in their newly acquired San Antonio, Texas, condo. As a zone 6a gardener, I was thrilled to leave behind crappy, rainy Indiana March weather for the balmy blue skies of zone 8b San Antone.
You know The Alamo, right? Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie (the knife guy) died there, defending it during the Texas Revolution in 1836.
Coincidentally, we arrived on the day they were preparing for a big reenactment. There were costumed reenactors (in wool in 80 degree weather, that is dedication) and campsites and all sorts of living history things going on.
Normally I’m all over that sort of thing, but something else had caught my attention. “Remember the Alam—ooh, what’s that tree?”
This tree was in bloom everywhere in San Antonio, and I was on a mission to figure out what it was (without a phone app, which would totally have been cheating). My monolog to my very-patient-but-not-really-plant-people parents was something like:
“Well, it’s a bit like wisteria, but wisteria’s a vine, not a tree. The leaves and flowers are definitely pea-like. What else is in the pea family? Some kind of giant Baptisia, maybe? No, that’s ridiculous, Baptisia is a perennial.”
And on and on.
We wandered the whole site, admiring the tents and costumes and the blooming trees (“What the hell is that tree?”) when, at last:
Look! It’s actually labeled! I immediately looked up Sophora secundiflora to learn that this is, in fact, the Texas mountain laurel. (Although in no way connected to the manufacture of liquor, despite its alternative common name “mezcal bean.”) It is a member of the Fabaceae (pea) family, so I get points for that.
Southern gardeners are probably like, “Of course that’s a Texas mountain laurel; they’re as common as dirt. Bless your heart, are you sure you’re a professional gardener?”
But that’s the thing about garden tourism outside your zone. In the central Midwest, I am a veritable plant encyclopedia. Drop me down in an unfamiliar zone, and I’m lucky to recognize a third of what I see.
Also at the Alamo, I stopped to admire this giant:
That is a big-ass Quercus virginiana, the live oak tree. This particular specimen was transplanted to the site in 1912, when the tree was already 40 years old. (Old trees are notoriously tricky to transplant). This thing is so big that it literally has metal posts positioned under some of the branches to take weight off the join of the limb and the trunk.
So for non-gardeners, a travel tip: If you are scheduled to travel with a gardener, get yourself an iPod. At least then you won’t have to listen to your companion try to figure out What the the hell is that tree? while you’re trying to soak up some culture.