Mountain Laurel

May 16, 2016  |  Permalink

Mountain Laurel is in bloom right now in many of our state parks. Mountain Laurel is an evergreen shrub that grows in acidic soil in upland areas. The flowers are cup shaped and the stamens inside arch over and are attached to the flower cup until mature. At maturity the stamens spring up and the fruit forms looking like little round bombs. The flowers are borne in terminal clusters and are quite showy.

Mountain Laurel is common in the Cumberland Plateau parks including Fall Creek Falls, South Cumberland, Cumberland Mountain, Pickett, and along the Cumberland Trail. It can also be found in the Highland Rim parks including Old Stone Fort, Rock Island, and Standing Stone. It can even be found in parks you might not expect like Radnor Lake along the Ganier Ridge Trail and Montgomery Bell along Woodhaven Lake. I have seen it in Land Between the Lakes along the Fort Henry Trails.

The Laurel in bloom is a symbol of the month of May for me and its beauty always bring me a smile. The entire plant, leaves, flowers and all are poisonous. So imagine my surprise one day when walking with my maintenance man Preston at Stone Door, when he told me he used to feed it to his hogs. Why, I asked, and he told me it did make them somewhat sick but they had to do it. You see, he said, they were not gaining weight and a dose of Laurel dewormed them so they could grow. Sounds very risky, but apparently it was used in the days before safer chemical dewormers became available.

Mountain Laurel in bloom is one of my favorite nature events of the year. The place where I think they are most beautiful is on a bluff, at a waterfall, or along a lake shore. Take a walk in a park soon and enjoy the show.

About the author

Randy Hedgepath

Tennessee State Naturalist Randy Hedgepath is a native of west Tennessee, where his family’s farm was just 15 miles from the Tennessee River. After graduating from UT Martin and working seasonally for several years for the National Park Service and Tennessee State Parks, he has spent the last 33 years with state parks. Randy worked as a ranger/naturalist at South Cumberland State Park on the Cumberland Plateau and at Radnor Lake Natural Area in Nashville until 2007 when he was given the opportunity to be the statewide naturalist for the state park system.