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CT State Flower: Mountain Laurel

By Connie Farrington.

The Mountain Laurel was designated as Connecticut’s State Flower by the General Assembly in 1907.  Connecticut women are said to have won over the reluctant politicians by placing branches of fresh laurel blossoms on their desks. This plant was first mentioned in John Smith’s General History in 1624.  In the mid-1700’s specimens were sent to Linnaeus, the European scientist who created the naming system for plants.

An alternative name of spoonwood is attributed to the Native Americans’ use of this shrub to make spoons. The wood can be carved and its fine grain takes a good polish. If you find a gnarled branch, you may be able to select a place that bends appropriately for a spoon or ladle.  Because of the strength of the wood it has been used by artisans to make tobacco pipes and furniture, such as small chairs. The plant is also long-lived and can be active for up to 100 years.

Mountain laurel is an evergreen shrub native to the eastern United States from southern Maine to northern Florida and west to Indiana and Louisiana.  Its fragrant clusters of pink and white star-shaped flowers are ¾ to 1 inch across on a shrub that is 5 to 15 feet high.  It flowers from May to July, often in rocky woods.

Mountain laurel shrubs (Kalmia latifolia) are a close relative of rhododendrons and azaleas, all three shrubs belonging to the heather family.  Almost all of the parts of the mountain laurel are poisonous to wildlife and humans.

Photos by Kathy Brown.

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