Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Mountain Laurel - Kalmia latifolia   L.
Members of Ericaceae:
Members of Kalmia with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 6 » Order Ericales » Family Ericaceae
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DistributionNearly statewide, but absent in the eastern counties; not known from coastal counties and most counties just inland from these; recorded east to Hertford, Martin, Beaufort, and Bladen counties.

This species has a range that lies mainly in the Appalachian Mountains and adjacent provinces, such as the Piedmont, Upper Coastal Plain, and Cumberland Plateau. It occurs from ME southwest to LA, but it does not occur west of the Mississippi River (except in LA).
AbundanceThe species is common to abundant in the Mountains and upper Piedmont, being found in most woodlands. It is common in the central Piedmont (especially in the Uwharrie Mountains), and fairly common to common in the eastern Piedmont. Though occurring in nearly all of the western half of the Coastal Plain counties, it is more localized there and is uncommon to locally fairly common.
HabitatThe species is found in a great variety of upland, and usually rocky forests – in acidic soils. It favors ravines, steep slopes, and rocky areas in upland forests, as well as along rocky streams. However, in some areas it does occur in bogs.
PhenologyBlooms mostly from late April into May in lower elevations, but from May into July at higher elevations. It fruits in September to October.
IdentificationThis very familiar ericad is a tall evergreen shrub (typically growing to 15-20 feet tall), occasionally considered a very small tree; it is easily recognized when it bloom by its abundance of white to pale pink flowers. It has elliptical, entire, leathery and shiny dark green (above) leaves that average 3 inches long. However, it is frequently misidentified by the public, especially confused with Sweetleaf (Symplocos tinctorial) and with the two small evergreen rhododendrons -- Rhododendron carolinianum and R. minus. The former has longer and narrower (or more tapering) leaves that average 4 inches long and usually are slightly wavy-margined; the pale yellow flowers grow in clusters along the twigs. The two rhododendrons have leaves of similar shape and size to Mountain Laurel, but they have punctate leaves, especially obvious on the underside; Mountain Laurel leaves have no spots/glands below. Mountain Laurel often grows in dense and nearly impenetrable stands, particularly on bluffs and steep slopes; in such sites, few herbaceous plants can grow beneath the shrubs.
Taxonomic CommentsThe species has occasionally been given varieties, but most references do not recognize varieties or subspecies.

Other Common Name(s)Other names are rare, though Ivy, Ivybush, Spoonwood, and a few others have been used.
State RankS5
Global RankG5
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B.A. SorrieFort Bragg, bluffs along Little River. 4 May 2009. HokePhoto_natural
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