In 1930 the General Assembly named both the mountain laurel and the pink azalea the state flower until Governor Gifford Pinchot made his final decree. Adopted into law in 1933, the mountain laurel became Pennsylavania’s state flower, and for good reason; it’s everywhere! In the spring and summer months, Pennsylvania woodlands bask in the beautiful abundance of white and pink mountain laurel blossoms. Outfitted with a captivating flower, this evergreen shrub can be found predominately peppered throughout the east coast, from southern Maine to north Florida and as far west as Indiana and Louisiana.
As a member of the heath family and closely related to the rhododendron and azalea, you may find this native woody shrub at the edge of forests and thriving throughout open woods. Its overall form is similar to the aforementioned, both having dense growth that may develop twisted branches as the shrub ages. Depending on variety and application, this stately shrub may also vary in size. Left to its own devices in nature, mountain laurels can grow as tall as 40’, but within residential applications, they will rarely exceed 15’ in height. There are dwarf cultivators of mountain laurels perfect for landscape accents that reach heights of only 3-4’. Don’t worry if your mountain laurel starts to get a little bigger than you anticipated; they can survive a hard pruning in late winter or early spring.
Given proper growing conditions, the mountain laurel is considered to be a low maintenance plant. This shrub will do best in zones 4-9 (Find your zone here), and in soil that is cool, moist, rich and acidic. While it can tolerant full sun and full shade, it is best in an area of partial shade. Even plants that are low maintenance in nature can fall victim to certain plights. Occurring rarely, the mountain laurel is susceptible common garden ills such as borers, lace bugs and blight. Also, take note that mountain laurels are poisonous if ingested, so if your garden is typically visited by small children or curious pets, err on the side of caution.
In the warmer months, you may find the mountain laurel brimming with clusters of delicate blossoms that resemble origami bowls. The buds burst open around May and the branches are taken over by their splendor. The flowers may be white or shades of pink or a deep rose, distinctly marked with symmetrical purple dots or streaks. One notable characteristic of the flower is the way it distributes its pollen! The stamen of the flower is in an arch shape with its tip hanging down like the ringer of a bell. When a pollinator lands on the flower, the weight of the insect causes a chain reaction for the stamen to launch pollen out from the flower like a catapult. When the beautiful blooms fall away for the season, however, the show must go on! Even in the coldest of winters when all other signs of life have conceded, the leathery rich green leaves stand their ground to remind us that spring is, yet again, around the corner.
Including mountain laurel as a part of your landscape plan is a true homage to the place you call home and a sincere compliment to your property. Fit for gardens and properties of all types, mountain laurels will look perfectly at home en masse, as a backdrop accent or even a focal point to express your Pennsylvania pride!
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