Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Sheep Laurel - Kalmia angustifolia   L.
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Members of Kalmia with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 6 » Family Ericaceae
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DistributionWith Kalmia carolina split off as a separate species in recent years, the “new” K. angustifolia is limited in NC only to the extreme northeastern part of the state, apparently known from just the Chowan Sand Banks area of Gates County, and possibly from neighboring Chowan County.

This is the northern taxon of the larger “Sheep Laurel” species, and occurs from Canada southward, mainly in Atlantic Coast states south through eastern VA to northeastern NC. It does not range west to OH, KY, or TN.
AbundanceVery rare in the state, but can be locally common along the Chowan Sand Banks in Gates County. This is a State Threatened species.
HabitatIt is found in mesic, sandy soils of open pine forests; in the state it occurs mainly in Pine/Scrub Oak Sandhill vegetation.
PhenologyBlooms from April to June, and occasionally in the fall; fruits in September and October. This is one of the few species that has a distinct secondary bloom many months after a primary spring flowering period.
IdentificationThe “Sheep Laurel” species pair (along with Carolina Laurel [K. carolina]) are fairly low, evergreen shrubs, basically reaching only 1-3 feet tall. Collectively, they are easily identified by the thick, entire, glaucous blue-green leaves and small (but conspicuous) rosy-pink flowers. Leaves of both are narrowly elliptical to oblong, ranging to about 1.5-2 inches long. This species is separated from Carolina Laurel mostly by small and detailed characters, though it averages shorter in stature. It has glabrous (hairless) leaves below, whereas the Carolina Laurel has some hairs below. Sheep Laurel also has glandular hairs on the calyx and on bracts; Carolina Laurel is mostly non-glandular. You may need to identify the species in NC simply by geography, though K. carolina also grows in the northeastern corner of the state. Thus, on the Chowan Sand Banks in Gates and Chowan counties, you need to be careful in separating these two species.
Taxonomic CommentsAs indicated above, for a long time these two entities were treated as varieties, with Sheep Laurel the nominate one – K. angustifolia var. angustifolia. Some references probably still do treat both within one species, but most have these split as good species now.

Other Common Name(s)The species complex is often called Sheepkill instead of Sheep Laurel. Lambkill is another widely used name. Northern Sheepkill is used, as well, to differ from Southern Sheepkill [K. carolina].
State RankS1
Global RankG5
State StatusT
US Status
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