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Mountain Laurel Tree

Kalmia latifolia

Height: Usually grows as a small shrub, but occasionally exhibits a tree-like form and reaches 30 feet or more

Evergreen/Deciduous: Evergreen

Lifespan: About 75 years

Fall Foliage: Green

Range: Found in the eastern United States, where it roughly follows the Appalachian Mountains, extending into much of Alabama

Typical Habitat: Cool, moist, shaded river valleys and coves  

Mountain laurel tree leaf

The Mountain Laurel Tree: Beautiful But Deadly  

The mountain laurel tree is prized by nature lovers as well as landscapers and homeowners, who want to introduce a bit of a mountain aesthetic to residential areas. The tree’s flowers are quite celebrated for their beauty, while the evergreen leaves and attractive bark provide year-round visual interest.

However, the mountain laurel is a very toxic species, with “high severity” poison characteristics. All green parts of the plant, as well as the fruit and flowers contain toxins that can sicken species ranging from humans to deer.

In fact, honey produced by bees who visit mountain laurel flowers is even dangerous.  

Mountain Laurel Tree Identification: Tips & Tricks

Mountain laurel trees are easy to distinguish from most other trees by simply noting the combination of the plant’s glossy, roundish leaves, its bark, and the habitats in which it thrives. And whenever the fruit or flowers are present, identification becomes trivial.

However, it is easy to confuse this species with various rhododendrons (Rhododendron spp.), as the two are similar and often grow in similar habitats.

However, by noting the leaf length – which is long in the case of rhododendrons and short in mountain laurel trees – you can distinguish the two from each other.  

The Mountain Laurel Tree: Additional Information

Still need to know more about this quaint little tree? Check out these great resources to learn more:

  • U.S. Forest Service: A semi-technical, comprehensive guide to the mountain laurel tree, including everything from forest associates to the species’ response to fire.
  • Missouri Botanical Garden: A general overview of the species, including basic information and some cultural notes.    
  • North Carolina State Extension: A helpful resource with a quick-reference chart and numerous high-quality photographs.

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