In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
April, 2012
Regional Report

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Get close to enjoy the sweet scent of Hong Kong orchid blossoms.

Scented Trees of Spring

Spring fragrances entice the most dedicated winter hermit outdoors. Consider adding a little aromatherapy to your landscape from one or more of these trees, which are blooming now. Some people are highly sensitive to fragrances and may not like the intensity, so now is the season to get out and about and put your nose to work!

Citrus trees Pretty white blossoms produce overwhelming fragrance. The tree may be a block away, but your nose will detect its presence. Citrus trees, although thirsty plants, offer many other benefits. If properly maintained, their glossy green leaves are attractive year around, and the dense foliage creates an excellent privacy and noise screen. They are a great pollinator plant for bees and a host plant for swallowtail butterflies to deposit eggs on the leaves. And the fruit is delicious!

Sweet acacia trees (Acacia smallii or A. farnesiana) Starting in late winter and continuing into spring, vanilla-scented puffballs cover the canopies in a cloud of golden yellow. At maturity, this drought tolerant tree reaches about 20 feet tall and wide, so it makes an excellent choice for small yards.

Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora) Showy purple flower clusters resemble wisteria but emit the very distinct aroma of grape bubblegum or Kool-Aid, depending on your senses. This large shrub, with deep green foliage, is often trained as a tree, although it is slow growing. Hard, tan colored seedpods contain bright reddish-orange seeds (about the size of an M&M) that are poisonous. The seedpods are easy to clip off or rake up and dispose of if you are worried about children or pets ingesting them. (The pod shells are not poisonous.) Also look for 'Silver Peso', a clone with silver foliage that looks fabulous against deep purple flowers.

Hong Kong Orchid Tree (Bauhinia blakeana) Stunning, fist-sized flowers have a sweet scent, although it is best noticed up close. The gorgeous petal color, varying from rosy pink to burgundy purple, and long curling stamens make up for the faint aroma. March is the bloom period in the low desert. Although Hong Kong orchid trees tolerate our heat and sun, foliage often appears chlorotic because these trees do not thrive in our salty, alkaline soil. It is important to water deeply to push salts beyond the root zone.

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