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American Laurel

American LaurelMountain or American Laurel; Calico Bush; Spoonwood; Calmoun; Broad-leaved Kalmia

Kalmia latifolia

Flowers - Buds and new flowers bright rose pink, afterward fading white, and only lined with pink, 1 in. across or less, numerous, in terminal clusters. Calyx small, 5-parted, sticky; corolla like a 5-pointed saucer, with 10 projections on outside; 10 arching stamens, an anther lodged in each projection; 1 pistil.

Stem: Shrubby, woody, stiffly branched, 2 to 20 ft. high. Leaves: Evergreen, entire, oval to elliptic, pointed at both ends, tapering into petioles.

Fruit: A round, brown capsule, with the style long remaining on it.

Preferred Habitat - Sandy or rocky woods, especially in hilly or mountainous country.

Flowering Season - May-June.

Distribution - New Brunswick and Ontario, southward to the Gulf of Mexico, and westward to Ohio.

It would be well if Americans, imitating the Japanese in making pilgrimages to scenes of supreme natural beauty, visited the mountains, rocky, woody hillsides, ravines, and tree-girt uplands when the laurel is in its glory; when masses of its pink and white blossoms, set among the dark evergreen leaves, flush the landscape like Aurora, and are reflected from the pools of streams and the serene depths of mountain lakes. Peter Kalm, a Swedish pupil of Linnaeus, who travelled here early in the eighteenth century, was more impressed by its beauty than that of any other flower.

He introduced the plant to Europe, where it is known as kalmia, and extensively cultivated on fine estates that are thrown open to the public during the flowering season. Even a flower is not without honor, save in its own country. We have only to prepare a border of leaf mould, take up the young plant without injuring the roots or allowing them to dry, hurry them into the ground, and prune back the bush a little, to establish it in our gardens, where it will bloom freely after the second year. Lime in the soil and manure are fatal to it as well as to rhododendrons and azaleas. All they require is a mulch of leaves kept on winter and summer that their fine fibrous roots may never dry out.

All the kalmias resort to a most ingenious device for compelling insect visitors to carry their pollen from blossom to blossom. A newly-opened flower has its stigma erected where the incoming bee must leave on its sticky surface the four minute orange-like grains carried from the anther of another flower on the hairy underside of her body. Now, each anther is tucked away in one of the ten little pockets of the saucer-shaped blossom, and the elastic filaments are strained upward like a bow.

Sheep-laurel, Lamb-kill, Wicky, Calf-kill, Sheep-poison, Narrow-leaved Laurel (K. angustifolia), and so on through a list of folk-names testifying chiefly to the plant's wickedness in the pasture, may be especially deadly food for cattle, but it certainly is a feast to the eyes. However much we may admire the small, deep crimson-pink flowers that we find in June and July in moist fields or swampy ground or on the hillsides, few of us will agree with Thoreau, who claimed that it is "handsomer than the Mountain Laurel."

The low shrub may be only six inches high, or it may attain three feet. The narrow evergreen leaves, pale on the underside, have a tendency to form groups of threes, standing upright when newly put forth, but bent downward with the weight of age. A peculiarity of the plant is that clusters of leaves usually terminate the woody stem, for the flowers grow in whorls or in clusters at the side of it below.