Ice-encased Texas mountain laurel ~ Dermatophyllum secundiflorum
photo courtesy of Tahlia Sowa-Gutierrez/CBS Austin
In 1972, a long-haul trucker persuaded my parents to choose a Dallas motel over a trek across ice-covered north Texas and Oklahoma roads. In 1990, certain live-aboard sailors on Clear Lake had to be freed from their boats by chipping off the ice that surrounded them.
When the ice of 1997 arrived in southeast Texas on January 12th of that year, more than an inch collected on power lines and trees until temperatures finally began to moderate on the afternoon of the 14th. Despite the thaw, three-quarters of the area between Houston, Beaumont, and Lake Charles remained cold and dark for as much as five days. And of course during Valentine’s week in 2021, the entire state went into the deep freeze, causing immeasurable misery.
During the 1990 event, I said to one of my dockmates, “You Texans may not do snow, but you sure know how to do ice.” This week, central and north Texas had yet another turn at ‘doing ice.’ Conditions are miserable for far too many people, but moments of amusement, delight, and awe have appeared in the midst of the chaos.
I found a bit of unexpected beauty in Austinite Tahlia Sowa-Gutierrez’s photo of one of my favorite Texas plants. Native to limestone soils in central and southwest Texas, as well as to the Chisos and Davis mountains, Texas mountain laurel flowers remind many people of wisteria; wonderfully fragrant, their scent resembles that of grape Kool-Aid.
In areas north of hardiness Zone 8, flowering isn’t reliable because late freezes often damage the buds. How this week’s freeze will affect trees farther south is hard to say, but many mountain laurels survived the 2021 week-long freeze, producing both flowers and seeds in its wake. We’ll hope the same for many of our native plants — especially the tough mountain laurel.