mountain-laurel (Kalmia latifolia)
Ericaceae, the heath family

How to recognize mountain-laurel. One of only a few non-coniferous evergreens that make it this far north, mountain-laurel is a spectacularly beautiful shrub of acid sites. The leaves are flat, alternate, elliptic, entire-margined and 6-10 cm long (notably shorter than the rolled-under leaves of the other principal broad-leaved evergreen shrub with which mountain-laurel may sometimes be found: great rhododendron, Rhododendron maximum).

Mountain-laurel in flower. June 4, 2015, Scioto County, Ohio.

Flowers and fruits. The large white, dish-shaped flowers are displayed in flat-topped clusters. They have an interesting pollination mechanism. When fresh, the 10 stamens are bent outwards so as to have their tips, where the pollen-containing anthers are, sunken into little depressions in the petals. The filaments are under tension, such that when foraging bee disrupts one, it snaps towards the center of the flower, throwing pollen onto her (it’s usually a her). You can try this yourself with a pin!

Mountain-laurel flower, showing anthers
tucked into pits in the petals.

The fruits are round dry capsules (dry fruits that split open to release their seeds.

Mountain-laurel fruits in mid-October.

Where to find mountain-laurel. E. Lucy Braun, in The Woody Plants of Ohio (1961, 1989; The Ohio State University Press) tells us that this species is “One of America’s most beautiful shrubs, occasionally (in valleys of the southern Appalachians) somewhat tree-like and reaching a height of 10-12 m., more often only 2-3m. Confined to acid soils of bog-margins or, in our area, more common in slopes of the Allegheny Plateau. Wider ranging than Rhododendron, in much of the Appalachian upland, and extending east and south across the Coastal Plain to southeastern Louisiana and northwest Florida…; in Ohio, limited to the Allegheny Plateau, and most common in the unglaciated area”

Scanned Image from an Old Book
(Flora of West Virginia, by P.D. Strausbaugh and Earl L. Core)


Ooh ooh. I have a question!

Hi. I’m a bee. The weirdest thing just happened to me on one of those pretty white flowers with the notches in the petals. I got bopped in the head with something. Can you explain that?

Haha! You got bopped in the head with a mountain-laurel anther! The stamens are under tension with their tips tucked into little pockets on the petals. You dislodged one, and it snapped inwards and gave you a dusting of pollen. Now go and do it again, and deposit some of that pollen on a stigma, OK?

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