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Kalmia latifolia

This plant has poison characteristics. See below.
Common Name(s):
Mountain laurel, calico bush, ivy bush, mountain ivy, spoonwood
'Carousel', 'Carol', 'Sarah', 'Richard Jaynes', 'Pristine', 'Elf' (dwarf), 'Minuet' (dwarf), 'Keepsake', 'Olympic Fire', 'Bullseye', 'Snowdrift'
Native Plants, Poisonous Plants, Shrubs

Kalmia latifolia, commonly called mountain laurel, is a gnarled, multi-stemmed, broadleaf evergreen shrub or small tree that is native to Eastern North America (New England south to the southern Indiana, Louisiana and the Florida panhandle) where it is found in a variety of habitats including open rocky or sandy woods, cool meadows, balds, mountain slopes and woodland margins. It is noted for its excellent spring flowers and quality year round foliage. It typically grows as a dense rounded shrub to 5-15’ tall, opening up and developing gnarly branches with age. Notwithstanding its usual shrub habit, mountain laurel will rarely grow as a small tree (particularly on slopes in the Appalachian Mountains) to as much as 30’ tall.

All parts of this plant are toxic if ingested. Kalmia latifolia is the state flower of Connecticut.

The bark is thin, smooth and dark red-brown in color in young trees.  The barks shreds and splits as the tree ages.  The trunk is contorted with cinnamon bark.

Mountain laurel has acquired a number of different common names over time including ivy bush, spoonwood, calico bush and American laurel. Linnaeus named the genus herein after Swedish botanist Peter Kalm (1716-1779) who explored plant life in parts of eastern North America from 1747 to 1751.

Regions:  Mountain, Piedmont, Coastal Plains

Seasons of Interest: 

  Blooms:   Spring/summer           Nut/Fruit/Seed:  Fall

Wildlife Value:  This plant is highly resistant to damage from deer.  It provides winter cover.  Hummingbirds and butterflies are attracted to the flowers.  Although the foilage is toxic to domestic livestock, white-tailed deer browse the leaves and twigs during the winter and early spring.

Play Value: Wildlife Enhancement

Notes: Multiple Stem 

Seed: Capsule 

Insects, Diseases, or Other Plant Problems:  Mountain laurel is susceptible to leaf spots and blights. Also susceptible to borers, scale, white fly and lace bugs.

Large, evergreen shrub; leaves alternate and simple; flowers pinkish, in terminal clusters, each saucer-shaped with 5 shallow lobes, the 10 anthers at first stuck in small pockets; fruit a capsule; multiple cultivars available, including dwarf forms ('Minuet' grows to 3 ft.)
7-15 ft.
The Mountain laurel has elliptic, simple, alternate, leathery, glossy evergreen leaves (2" to 5” long) which are dark green above and yellow green beneath and reminiscent to the leaves of rhododendrons. The leaves are occasionally opposite or whorled. New growth is yellow-green, yellows with age and falls off.
Flowers appear on the Mountain laurel in terminal clusters (corymbs to 6” across), typically covering the shrub in late May-June for several weeks with an often exceptional bloom. Each flower (to 1” across) is cup shaped with five sides and ranges in color from rose to white with purple markings inside. If not deadheaded, flowers give way to non-showy brown fruits (3/16” dehiscent capsules) that persist into winter.
The Mountain laurel is best grown in cool, moist, rich, acidic, humusy, well-drained soils in part shade. Mulch to retain moisture and keep root zones cool. Plants tolerate a wide range of light conditions (full sun to full shade), but are best in part shade (morning sun with early to mid-afternoon shade), Raised plantings should be considered in order to promote better drainage. Plants do not grow well in heavy clay soils. Remove spent flower clusters immediately after bloom. Prune lightly after bloom to promote bushy growth.
Symmetrical; dense; haystacked to rounded; becomes open and loose with age
Partial shade; moist, well-drained soil but is tolerant of dry soil but not wet sites
4 to 5 in. clusters of white to pink flowers in late spring
Poison Part:
All parts
Poison Delivery Mode:
Salivation, watering of eyes and nose, slow pulse, nausea, vomiting, sweating, abdominal pain, headache, tingling of skin, lack of coordination, convulsions, paralysis
Toxic Principle:
Andromedotoxin, a resinoid; arbutin, a glycoside
Found in:
Forest or natural areas in moist woods and along stream banks; landscape as cultivated ornamental flowering shrub or small tree
5-15 ft.
cpp, dwarf cultivars, naturalizes, contorted trunk, cinnamon bark, native, play, playground, poisonous, hummingbirds, butterflies, showy, children’s garden, evergreen

NCCES plant id: 498

Kalmia latifolia Kalmia latifolia
Kalmia latifolia Kalmia latifolia
Kalmia latifolia Kalmia latifolia
Kalmia latifolia Kalmia latifolia
Kalmia latifolia 'Minuet' K. latifolia 'Minuet' close-up
Philip Bouchard, CC BY-NC-ND - 2.0