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.