Mountain Laurel
(Mountain Laurel - Calico Bush - Spoonwood - Ivybush)
Kalmia latifolia - Linnaeus
Ericaceae (Heath) Family


Photo courtesy Mike Carter, Pensacola, Fl

Mountain Laurel is the state flower of Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

The plant is an evergreen shrub or small tree with a crooked trunk, stout spreading branches, and many-stems. The shrub rarely reaches heights of 20 feet, or a trunk diameter greater than six inches. Its preferred habitat is stream banks, low woods and valleys. Distribution is throughout the Escambia region.

The leaves are alternate on the stem, consisting of one whole part, short leaf stalks, leathery and evergreen. Leaf form is lance-like to egg-shaped; widest at the middle; no teeth and no lobes; tapers to the tip with sides less than equal. The leaf base is wedge shaped.

Flowers are in clusters at the end of new growth twigs; bisexual in nature and symmetrical in form; glandular and sticky to touch. The calyx is 5-lobed. The corolla is rotate (like a wheel). Flower colors range from pink to purple with spots; ten stamens that remain attached to the corolla until maturity. Flowers occur in the spring.

Fruit is a capsule.

The shrub may be poisonous to livestock if grazed in large quantity; however, deer depend heavily on its green leaves during the winter months, but they have a built-in sense that tells them when enough is enough and probably know a good antidote. Honey from the flower is also believed to be poisonous so the beekeeper is apt to remove the shrubs to prevent his bees taking the pollen.

Wood of the mountain laurel has been used for tool handles and the burls of hard, knot-like growths are used to make the briar tobacco pipes.

The botanist, Linnaeus named this genus for one of his early students, Peter Kalm, of Sweden. It appears that young Kalm traveled to Canada and the eastern US in the 1700s. He became so enamored with this beautiful shrub that he set about making it his life study -- thus the scientific name “Kalmia.”

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