Kalmia latifolia, commonly called Mountain-laurel, is a species of flowering plant in the heather family, Ericaceae, that is native to the eastern United States. Its range stretches from southern Maine south to northern Florida, and west to Indiana and Louisiana. The plant favors the same growing environments as its close relatives, Rhododendrons, Azaleas and Blueberries. Mountain-laurel is the state flower of Connecticut and Pennsylvania. It is the namesake of the city of Laurel, Mississippi (founded 1882). The plant was first recorded in America in 1624, but it was named after Pehr Kalm, who sent samples to Linnaeus in the 18th century.
Mountain Laurel is one of the most beautiful USA flowering shrubs and is well displayed as an ornamental in many parks. The plant was originally brought to Europe as an ornamental plant during the 18th century.
Kalmia latifolia is a broadleaf evergreen shrub, or small tree that produces beautiful, intricate clusters of flowers which open from crinkled, dark pink buds.
The stamens of the flowers have an odd, springlike mechanism which spreads pollen when tripped by a bee. Experiments have shown the flower capable of flinging its pollen up to 15 cm. The glossy dark green leaves of mountain laurel look great year-round.
The wood of Kalmia latifolia is heavy and strong but brittle. It has been used for tool handles and turnery, and the burls, or hard knotlike growths, for briar tobacco pipes. In the early 19th century it was used in wooden-works clocks.
The Cherokee use the plant as an analgesic, placing an infusion of leaves put on scratches made over location of the pain. They also rub the bristly edges of ten to twelve leaves over the skin for rheumatism, crush the leaves to rub brier scratches, use an infusion as a wash “to get rid of pests”, use a compound as a liniment, rub leaf ooze rubbed into scratched skin of ball players to prevent cramps, and use a leaf salve for healing. They also use the wood for carving.
Common names: Mountain-Laurel, Calico-Bush (because the pink or white flowers usually have dark pink or maroon markings), Ivybush, or Spoonwood (because Native Americans used to make their spoons out of it).
Kalmia latifolia Ostbo Red. Photo by rhodofreuden.de
Family: Blueberry family Ericaceae
Cultivars: ‘Peppermint’, ‘Nipmuck’, ‘Pinwheel’, ‘Heart’s Desire’, ‘Goodrich’, ‘Little Linda’, ‘Bridesmaid’, ‘Elf’, ‘Keepsake’, ‘Raspberry Glow’, ‘Carol’, ‘Snowdrift’, ‘Yankee Doodle’, ‘Ostbo Red’, ‘Minuet’
Native: Mid-Atlantic United States, Southeastern United States.
Plant type: Evergreen shrub. Perennial.
Hardiness: Hardy. USDA 4a – 9b
Light: Partial sun to partial shade is ideal. Partial Shade is best in hot, southern climates.
Soil: Loam, Sand, Light, Acidic, Neutral
Moisture: Well-drained, Moist, Average Water. Mountain laurel has a shallow root system and needs watering more often than most shrubs.
Flowering period: May to June
Flower Color: White, Red, Pink, Light Pink, Rose
Repeat Bloomer: No
Height: 250 – 350 cm (98 – 138 in)
Spread: 250 – 350 cm (98 – 138 in)
Time to plant: March to May
Propagation: By semi-ripe cuttings in midsummer, from seed.
Uses: Alpine, Feature Plant, Foundation, Flower Borders and Beds, Rock Garden, Wall. There are many dwarf cultivars ideal for small garden spaces as well as taller forms appropriate for large planting areas.
Fertilizer: Do not give the shrubs too much fertilizer. fertilizer designed for acid-loving plants mixed at one-quarter strength once a year in spring. You can also add a thin layer of compost to the soil for additional nutrients and to add to the organic matter of the soil.
Has Thorns: No
Toxity: Highly Toxic. All parts of plant are poisonous if ingested due to grayanotoxin and arbutin. Also poisonous to several different animals, including horses, goats, cattle, deer, and monkeys.
Tips: Mulch annually with well-rotted leaf mould. If azaleas and rhododendrons grow well in the area, mountain laurel will thrive. Too much shade can result in a less uniform growth habit and reduced flowering. Prune lightly, if at all. Mulch annually with well-rotted leaf mould.
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Safety notes: This website is for educational purposes only and is not medical advice, and please check with your doctor before using plants if you are pregnant, using medications or have other health conditions.