Laurel Heaven

The stand of mountain laurel that I wrote about last time is now at glorious peak bloom. My wrist is healing well, so I was able to manage the D750 with the kit lens (24-120mm) to get a few pictures.

If you read about mountain laurel in just about any guidebook you’ll probably come across a phrase like “impenetrable thicket”, describing how they grow. Apparently in the southern Appalachian mountains these thickets are known as “laurel hells.”  I hope to find one someday, but in the meantime I’m enjoying a local laurel heaven.  Hope you are, too!


Other common names for Kalmia latifolia include spoonwood, spoon-hunt, calico-bush, big-leaved ivy, ivybush, red-stemmed ivy, clamoun, little laurel, small laurel, wood laurel, poison-laurel, sheepsbane, lambkill, and wocky*.


*The History and Folklore of North American Wildflowers, Timothy Coffey, Hougton Mifflin Company, 1993

Mountain Laurel and Sheep Laurel

Just was I was on a roll getting this blog going again, I had to go and break my wrist.  No more photography for awhile, but I wanted to let you know about this great stand of mountain laurel.  Two weeks ago they were budding up, so I expect they’ll be open by now.




The plants are on the Cabin John Trail, roughly midway between Bradley Boulevard and River Road. There’s a trail marker there, at the side trail that goes to Cindy Lane, and the stand starts just to the south of that and goes on for a few tenths of a mile. There must have been thousands of mountain laurels. Not all were in bud, of course, but a lot were, so it should be a good show.

Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is a medium-sized evergreen shrub in the heath and heather family.  Like other ericaceous plants, it prefers acidic soils that are moist and well-drained. It ranges from the Gulf of Mexico coast north all the way to Maine, and westward a little ways past the Appalachian Mountains (further west in the South).  In Maryland it can be found in every county.

If you’re exploring this segment of the Cabin John Trail, keep your eyes open for pinxterbloom azaleas (Rhododendron periclymenoides). They grow in the same area as the mountain laurels, mostly along the banks of the creek. I counted at least twenty-one of them blooming on April 27th this year. They’re almost certainly done by now.

One other species of Kalmia is found growing in Maryland: K. angustifolia, or sheep laurel.  The Coastal Plain of Maryland is almost as far south as it grows; it’s found more frequently as you go northeast, all the way into Maine and beyond, well into Québec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland (where I took this picture, in 2017).


Sugarloaf, May 5


pinxter azalea in all its glory



Went back to Sugarloaf Mountain on May 5 and spent all morning hunting for lady slipper orchids. I didn’t find any, but I did find some other things that I haven’t seen before (more about those in the next few days). The list of plants in bloom:

  • sweet cicely
  • dwarf cinquefoil
  • Indian cucumber root
  • flowering dogwood
  • common fleabane
  • mountain laurel (just two buds open)
  • pinxter azalea
  • Rubus species (unknown which, probably a dewberry or blackberry)
  • rue anemone
  • Gray’s sedge
  • wild sarsaparilla
  • false Solomon’s seal (buds not quite open)
  • marsh blue violet
  • ovate-leaved violet
  • spotted wintergreen (buds)

Also I saw great stands of royal fern and cinnamon fern, and some nice specimens of scrub pine (Pinus virginiana) and white pine (Pinus strobus).

Most trees seem to be fully leafed out but the leaves are still small and pale; on that gloomy, misty morning the pinxters stood out like beacons in the forest. Mountain laurel buds are swollen, and by the time this post is published they should be opening. Since mountain laurel is one of the dominant understory plants at Sugarloaf, it will be a fabulous show.


mountain laurel about to pop

What’s Green Now? Mountain Laurel


Kalmia latifolia; Ericaceae

Not much to look at now, but in this season of gray and brown, I’ll take what I can get.  Mountain laurel is a close relative of the familiar garden plants rhododendron and azalea. In the wild it can get to ten feet in height, with a rambling, open form and a tendency to grow in thickets.  The ones I’ve seen in the mid-Atlantic piedmont tend to be sparsely clad with leaves.


Here’s what we can look forward to, starting about mid-May:


Lots of detailed information about mountain laurel.