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What is Mountain Laurel?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 16, 2024
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Sometimes referred to as spoonwood, mountain laurel is a plant that is found along the eastern seaboard of the United States. This flowering plant can be found as far west as into the Great Lakes area, and can grow to a height of nine meters. The flowers found on mountain laurel come hues that range from pure white to a bright red and are contrasted with the lush green leaves on the plant. While beautiful, this is a poisonous plant that should be kept away from pets and other forms of wildlife.

Mountain laurel was first discovered in the early 17th century and was quickly exported to Europe as a hardy ornamental plant that could thrive in cool conditions. The vibrant flowers added color to many gardens across the continent and are still popular choices for landscaping in many parts of the world today. The evergreen leaves also make it an attractive addition even when the plant is not in bloom.

While Kalmia latfolia or mountain laurel is an extremely beautiful plant any time of the year, it does present health hazards to many household pets as well as livestock. Domestic animals such as cows, sheep, and horses can cause a wide range of ailments that begin to appear within hours of consuming the leaves or the flowers. Deer and other wild animals also can develop severe health problems by consuming mountain laurel. The toxins in the plant may cause a wide range of symptoms, including convulsions, bowel upsets such as diarrhea, and regurgitation. In many cases, consumption of mountain laurel leads to death.

The popular name of spoonwood has its origins in Native American culture. Many of the tribes that lived along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean would use the tough wood from mountain laurel to shape utensils that were used for food preparation and eating. This was particularly true for tribes who lived in what is present day North and South Carolina and the Virginias, since mountain wood tends to grow larger in the southern sections of the eastern seaboard.

Today, mountain laurel continues to be used in many landscaping designs in both the United States and other places around the world. Other than areas with large amounts of limestone, the plant is able to flourish in just about any type of soil. The hardiness of the plant makes it ideal for use in landscaping projects where other types of foliage have failed to thrive.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum , Writer
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including HomeQuestionsAnswered, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.

Discussion Comments

By ysmina — On Mar 13, 2011

It's hard to grow plants where I live. The temperature falls rapidly at night and most plants freeze. There was also a fungi problem last year that hit my plants very badly. The only one that did not suffer from the weather conditions or the fungi were the mountain laurels. They lost their blooms at the most

By discographer — On Mar 12, 2011

We have a large yard with some pine trees. My husband and I were looking for some plants and flowers to add some color to our yard. We found mountain laurels at the nursery by coincidence, hadn't seen them before but the pictures of the flowers looked really different than the others. We bought two sets of balled pink and white mountain laurel shrubs and planted them on both sides of the yard.

After several weeks, half of the plants that got less sunlight seemed to be doing much better than the other half. We replanted the other ones with the ones in light shade. They have grown a lot since then and have started to bloom already. I think mountain laurels do well in most soils but they do not like too much sunlight. Our yard looks really beautiful with them now, it looks more like a garden.

By fify — On Mar 10, 2011

I wonder why some of the most beautiful flowers are poisonous. I love Texas Mountain Laurel and Oleander, both extremely beautiful plants but poisonous. Texas Mountain Laurel is found all over the area I live in South Texas. They bloom every March and the air just smells amazing from the scent of its flowers.

I had seen Oleander when I was on vacation in Florida. They were also extremely colorful and beautiful, just like Mountain Laurel. I was so surprised to hear that it was poisonous as well. I guess some plants are meant to be just looked at.

Malcolm Tatum

Malcolm Tatum


Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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