Kalmia latifolia (Mountain Laurel)

Tried and True Native Plant Selections for the Mid-Atlantic

Mountain laurel flowers dispense pollen in a unique manner. Their stamens act like catapults: the pollen-bearing tips (anthers) are secured in pockets at the edge of the petals, so that when the flower opens, the stalks (filaments) of the stamens arch backward under tension. When a visitor seeks nectar in the center of the flower, its weight dislodges the stamens, which spring up flinging pollen onto the visitor’s body at a speed of about 11.5 feet/second. If you are not fortunate enough to observe how a stamen reacts with an insect, then try it yourself by tapping the arched stamen with a pen or pencil. You can see close-ups of secured and dislodged stamens in this video. Video © 2020 Mary Free

This handsome, native, eastern North American* evergreen is the State Flower of Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Its glossy, leathery leaves make lovely winter-season decorations that were so popular in the early twentieth century that Connecticut passed a law in 1917 to protect Mountain Laurels from being stolen from private property to sell.** The Virginia Native Plant Society named Mountain Laurel as Wildflower of the Year in 1994.

*It is more or less common throughout the Mid-Atlantic except in the outer Coastal Plain of VA where it is infrequent.
**As part of its criminal law reform, CT repealed the Laurel Law in 1969.

Print Version (Legal Size): Kalmia latifolia (Mountain Laurel)

Kalmia latifolia, Mountain Laurel, Shrub Height: 5–20 feet Spread: 5–15 feet Bloom Color: White to pink with purple markings Characteristics Tall, dense, rounded evergreen shrub Shiny, dark green leaves (yellow-green in sun) Clusters of cup-shaped flowers from May to July Brown fruit from May to June persists into winter Red-tinged brown bark; trunks gnarl with age Attributes Tolerates full sun, full shade, rocky soil, sandy soil and severe pruning; intolerant of heavy clay soil Susceptible to lacebug and to leaf spot All parts of plant are toxic to humans if eaten; foliage poisonous to hoofed browsers except deer that occasionally severely damage Attracts bees, song birds, and small mammals Growing and Maintenance Tips Soil Requirements: Well-drained, acidic Light Requirements: Partial Shade Water Requirements: Dry, Moist, Wet Does best in morning or dappled sun in open woods Use pine bark to amend soil and to mulchRemove flower heads as they fadeUse as foundation planting, as hedge, in back of shaded shrub borders, or in woodland gardens; compliments rhododendrons and azaleas Hardiness: USDA Zones 4-9 Excellent Replacement for Camellia japonica - Camellia Ligustrum japonicum - Japanese Privet Pieris japonica - Japanese Pieris Rhododendron PJM - Dwarf Rhododendron *It is more or less common throughout the Mid-Atlantic except in the outer Coastal Plain of VA where it is infrequent. **As part of its criminal law reform, CT repealed the Laurel Law in 1969.Learn more about other Mid-Atlantic plants: Tried and True Plant Fact Sheets