A Seasonal Look: Goldenball Leadtree (Leucaena retusa)

In my reckoning, the Goldenball Leadtree, Leucaena retusais the quintessential spring tree here in Central Texas.  It’s striking green foliage, paired with cheery yellow blooms shouts spring! spring! spring! and its airy, graceful growing pattern, echos the joyful vibe that we all feel during spring. 

Goldenball’s native range is only in Texas–primarily in Central Texas, but also to far West Texas and even into northern Mexico.  For pollinators exclusively and for gardeners mostly, the fuzzy blooms are the key items of interest on this attractive tree.  Fragrant and stunning, the blooms dot the tree for at least two months in spring, sometimes longer.

I like this shot as it demonstrates a flower in its prime, some blooms are which over-the-hill, and a bunch of bloom wannabes, gearing up for their time in the sun.

The leaves are small and oval, arranged bipinnately along an axis, and suggest a kind of transparency when highlighted by Texas sunshine.   The flowers are about an inch in diameter, yellow when at their blooming peak, taking on an orangy hue as the bloom fades.


Sometime in February, depending upon the depth of our winter, the deciduous tree begins to show new life. 


Foliage forms and unfurls, growing at a steady pace through February and into March.  By the time the leaves are near a mature size, the bloom buds are developing.  Initially they’re small, green, and spiky:  green kush balls,

…that develop into fat, yellow kush balls.

As beautiful as the flowers are, I find the airy foliage just as attractive and it lasts the whole growing season.  It never loses its spring green, either.

It’s a hopeful green.

My Goldenball is about 10 years old and probably 15 feet high.  It prefers full-to-part sun, but mine only receives some dappled early morning sun, then an hour or two of direct sun in late afternoon.  Because of shade, mine doesn’t bloom quite as much as it once did, but I’m still very happy with this beauty. It has an open, rangy quality that I like.  It’s a vertical plant, but not huge nor dense, which allows it to fit in a small area without overwhelming or outgrowing the space.  The Goldenball is interesting all year.  While I have no pollinator-sipping-the-blooms photos (how did that happen?), large carpenter bees and my honeybees are grateful visitors during the March-April-May bloom time.  Some sources report that Goldenball blooms on and off throughout summer, but mine is strictly a spring bloomer.

Summer and fall show the Goldenball Leadtree as a happily green, dry-loving small tree, perfect for an urban garden in a hot climate. 

My Goldenball leeaans to the left, I suspect trying for as much sun as it can gather for itself, but I don’t mind that bit of quirkiness.   Throughout the year and especially in summer, the fledging birds dash to this little bit of protective green, which sits not too far from the bird feeders.  I’ve seen Carolina Wrens, Thryothorus ludovicianus, hopping along the slender branches, gleaning insects from the bark as they go, and during migration season, warblers zip to it for safety.

I like the Goldenball’s green glow.  Notice how light and bright the green is on the Goldenball, versus the darker foliage on the Red Oak branch to the left and the Mountain Laurel, to the right.

By late summer, the Goldenball Leadtree–true to its legume heritage–develops seedpods, which hang, pendant-like, from the branches.  

I let mine break open and drop, but thus far, I no seedlings have grown from the mother plant.  Supposedly, Goldenball easily grows from seed, but mine remains seedling-less.  I would love to have some baby Goldenballs to share.

Until there’s a hard freeze, the foliage remains on the tree, thinning a bit with consistent temperatures near to, but not below, freezing.  A hard freeze will take care of that green business, leaving the tree a skeleton of its former self.

Goldenball Leadtree, winter form with sunny sky.

Goldenball Leadtree, winter form with gloomy sky.

The now freeze-burned and dropped Goldenball leaves mix it up with the also frozen and dropped Red Oak leaves.


For those with deer in their landscapes, Goldenball Leadtree is not deer resistant, so browsing will happen, at least until the foliage is high enough that deer can’t reach it.  Is that even possible?  But for those who have cattle and aren’t growing it for this tree for its beauty, Goldenball is reportedly a good browsing plant. 

I am happy to have a spot for this lovely little tough-as-nails native tree in my urban garden.

In spring:


Summer and Fall:


In Winter:

If you garden anywhere in Central to West Texas, Goldenball Leadtree is a charming, easy-to-grow addition to your garden.

Leafed Out in Full

Spring has sprung, rain has fallen, temperatures have climbed and here in Austin, Texas, we’re mostly through our beautiful and glorious spring weather and headed into the lovely–though admittedly somewhat less pleasant–summer season.    Summers in Texas are hot and humid and that’s one reason why Texans have historically liked trees; trees provide respite from the sun and cool our souls.  The American Sycamore,  Platanus occidentalis is a tree that the Native Americans and later, European and American pioneers, scouted for when they wanted to find water and shade in Texas.

Stately and tall, the American Sycamore is springtime resplendent in its lush, green foliage, all leafed out and ready to provide protection for critters–large and small, furred and feathered, two-legged and four-legged.



The limbs are graceful as they reach into and support the canopy.

This month, the leaves have been munched upon and are a bit holey.



I’m not sure exactly who’s been eating the leafy greens, though I know I’ve seen this sort of damage in previous years on the Sycamore’s leaves.


The mature leaves have some damage, but there are new leaves, too.

I did see this fella, a Glassy Winged SharpshooterHomalodisca vitripennis,  on one of the leaves.


Now, I’m not suggesting that this particular one is responsible for all the holes, but apparently, the Sharpshooter undergoes several molts in its trip toward adulthood and it had to eat something, so I think the leaves are a good bet.  Since I caught the Sharpshooter near the holes, he gets the blame for making the holes.

The Glassy Winged Sharpshooter is a type of leafhopper insect, of which there are a bunch who munch on shrub and tree foliage here in Central Texas.  I’m not one to fret about a few holes in leaves–everyone has to eat and one function of foliage is to feed insects.  The Glassy Winged is common here in Central Texas and according to literature, they do little long-term or serious damage to trees and shrubs.

This one–the one I referred to earlier as a “fella” and “he”–is actually a female.  The white patches on her wings are call egg brochosomes.


Most leafhopper species have brochosomes, which produce a sticky substance used to coat their bodies for waterproofing.  Additionally, the female stores and then uses the substance she holds in the brochosomes to cover her eggs once she lays them.

Also, if you stand under the Sycamore (and my oak trees, too) right now, you might feel a few “drops” from the trees, sort of like rain drops, but with a clear, blue sky above. No, the drops aren’t rogue precipitation, but, more than likely, are leafhopper excrement.

Well, that’s nice.  Just don’t host your next picnic underneath a tree with “drops” coming out of it.

The Sycamore in May is in full leaf, foliage, and life.


Not all the leaves have been insect damaged.

It will be a harbinger of safety, food, and protection for many and for months to come.

Thanking Pat of The Squirrelbasket for graciously hosting this fun meme about trees. Check out her blog for interesting information about trees from all over the world.


Possumhaw Holly (Ilex decidua): A Seasonal Look

When January and February roll around and if a significant freeze has occurred, this is something gorgeous to see in Central Texas, as well as many other places.IMGP5115.new

Waxen limbs decorated with luscious, red berries, this is the winter iteration of Possumhaw Holly, also known as Winterberry and Deciduous Holly.



Its scientific name, Ilex decidua  says it all: decidua comes from the Latin meaning decidere, to fall off.  Trees which retain leaves, like the Yaupon Holly, Ilex vomitoria,  in the background, are evergreen.

IMGP5250.newTrees which lose leaves in winter are deciduous, like the Possumhaw in the foreground. A Seasonal Look focuses on this deciduous, berrying tree, valuable for wildlife and desirable for gardeners and homeowners.

My experience with Possumhaw Holly rests primarily with the one growing in my back garden which is about 13 years old.


Possumhaw grows in a wide range of the continental United States–from the Southern states upwards into Illinois, in parts of Florida and Texas. Possumhaw is common throughout Central Texas and into West Texas, but my father has one in Corpus Christi, Texas (along the Gulf of Mexico coast) which is beautiful with masses of berries in winter. It is in winter that most people turn their heads at this stunning, understory tree, but it’s an excellent tree year-round to include in the home or commercial garden.

The berries are red  in the deep of winter,IMGP5260.new


…and are sometimes stripped very quickly after ripening by the various birds which find them yummy, like Mockingbirds, Blue Jays, and Cedar Waxwings, and also by the small mammals, such as squirrels, which enjoy the tasty fruit.  Some years though, the berries remain on the limbs even as new spring leaves emerge.

P1020846.new The bark is pale and relatively smooth,


…complementing the colorful berries in winter and the bright green of new leaves in spring.  Usually it’s in March (in Austin) that the tree begins leafing out. In more northern latitudes, that spring leaf flush occurs later.  In mild years, not all of the previous season’s leaves will have dropped completely, so there are occasions where last season’s leaves and some berries adorn the tree alongside new foliage.

The leaves are vibrant green, obovate, and slightly scalloped.


Once new leaves are fully out, tiny white flowers appear and are not particularly noticeable by people but are favored by bees and other pollinators.  The flowers don’t last long, but instead develop into teensy green berries,P1030049.new



….and then those berries grow.  One caution, though: the Possumhaw is dioecious, meaning that the trees are either girl trees or boy trees.  It’s the girl trees you want–they produce those fab berries.  Additionally, I’ve read that it’s beneficial for Possumhaw to grow near to other berrying plants for cross-pollination to occur.  My neighbor grows another Texas native, the Yaupon Holly, Ilex vomitoria, within spitting distance from my Possumhaw.I like the combination of the two Ilex species, hanging out together in the back of my garden.

IMGP5272.newOther common garden berrying plants, like Burford Holly, Ilex cornuta, also serve as pollination partners.

Possumhaw is a tough customer that handles heat and drought conditions during summer, always looking fresh and verdant. According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, it has “moderate” water needs–it is a plant that is often found in river bottoms, after all. Mine gets a little water by soaker hose, once or twice per month in summer–but that’s it. Mine also grows in decent soil and I’m a mulcher, but Possumhaw is found in a large variety of soil types, so it’s versatile and thrives in a variety of situations.

I’ve allowed my Possumhaw to develop multiple trunks,


…and I don’t prune often, unless a branch is broken or in the way of something else. (Ahem, fence.)   However, Possumhaw responds well to pruning and is attractive as either a multi-trunked or single trunked tree–it truly is a matter of aesthetics how you’d want your Possumhaw to look, more formal with pruning or less formal, without.

In the late summer, the berries begin blushing,

IMGP1386.new IMGP2172.new


…and the blush deepens with passing of the autumn months. One day, the glorious red arrives.

IMGP2955.new IMGP3098.new

During autumn, the leaves tend to develop into a more yellow shade of green, sometimes actually turning yellow. Once a hard freeze occurs and the leaves fall, it’s all about the berries!

IMGP5130.new IMGP5252.new

Such beauty in a rather dull time of year.  Possumhaw is a worthwhile little tree for many in the United States to grow–plant one today, for spring,









… and winter.



You will love this addition to your garden and so will the wildlife in your gardens who rely on this nurturing tree.

Additional information:   https://mygardenersays.com/2015/02/16/possumhaw-addendum