Photo © Stephanie C Brundage / Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
FLORA: NATIVE POLLINATOR PLANTS
Golden Blooms of the Huisache
One of the earliest bloomers each spring is the huisache tree, piercing the dull winter palette with its masses of golden blooms. Each yellow fluffball smells as good as it looks, offering an all-senses invitation to spring from February through April. It’s native to South Texas and Mexico.
Also commonly known as sweet acacia, this fountain-shaped tree can reach heights of 20 feet; it is considered a large shrub or small tree. Huisache grows in a variety of soils, but does best on the heavier, wetter clays and clay loams from the Rio Grande plains to.
Another secondary name of the huisache helps provide a much-needed pronunciation guide: weesatch. Huisache attracts birds, butterflies and hummingbirds and needs little water to grow, perfect for Texas.
Though you may be lured by the huisache’s fragrance and beauty, beware: the branches are armed with 2-inch spikes. The common name, huisache, is derived from Nahuatl and means “many thorns.” It is sometimes called needlebush.
In southern Europe this species is extensively planted for the flowers, which are processed into a perfume ingredient called “cassie.” Those flowers are surrounded by sensitive, gray-green leaflets that look like tiny mimosa leaves. The seeds (huisache is a legume, a member of the pea family) come in a 2- to 3-inch plump, green pod that darkens to black. The resin of the acacia is used to produce gum arabic, a natural stabilizer and thickening agent in food.
You may recognize in huisache the characteristics of other Texas acacias, such as mesquite trees, catclaw and the thornless fern acacia.