The Mountain Laurel, Kalmia latifolia,
is in full bloom throughout the Appalachians May through July. This beautiful evergreen shrub, in the Heath family (Ericaceae
), has broad, glossy leaves and a fibrous crooked trunk. Growing in thickets, they were once described by North Carolina poet Fred Chappell
as "laurel hells," and are found on rocky slopes, balds, and in deciduous forests. In the Carolinas, Laurel will grow taller, forming small trees, while in more northern climates, they grow as shorter shrubs.
Laurels are long-lived: as many as 100 tree rings have been reported on larger specimens. They are also relatively tolerant of fire and come back even when the stems are cut to the ground.
The bell-shaped flowers grow in clusters, range from white to pink with deep rose stars inside.
Known to my grandparents as Mountain Ivy, Mountain Laurel is also known as IvyBush, Calico Bush, Spoonwood, Sheep Laurel, and Lambkill. Although all parts of the plant are poisonous, the native Cherokee used and infusion of its leaves for a liniment. The trunks were used by Native American and the early mountain settlers to carve tool handles, spoons and other utensils. The burls were used to carve tobacco pipes.
The Mountain Laurel is the state flower of both Connecticut
. It will always remind me of my grandparents, who every year made a pilgrimage along the Blue Ridge Parkway
in North Carolina to see these beautiful blooms. Today, I'm lucky enough that I only have to walk up the hill from my house to be blessed with the lovely sight of them.
Photos by and property of Wesley J. Satterwhite.
Labels: appalachians, Blue Ridge Parkway, kalmia latiflora, mountain laurel, wildflowers