An evergreen shrub. Leaves. - Oblong, pointed, shining, of a leathery texture. Flowers. - White or pink, in terminal clusters. Calyx. - Five-parted. Corolla. - Marked with red, wheel-shaped, five-lobed, with ten depressions. Stamens. - Ten, each anther lodged in one of the depressions of the corolla. Pistil. - One.
Plate XV. Mountain Laurel. - K.latifolia
The shining green leaves which surround the white or rose-colored flowers of the mountain laurel are familiar to all who have skirted the west shore of the Hudson River, wandered across the hills that lie in its vicinity, or clambered across the mountains of Pennsylvania, where the shrub sometimes grows to a height of thirty feet. Not that these localities limit its range : for it abounds more or less from Canada to Florida, and far inland, especially along the mountains, whose sides are often clothed with an apparent mantle of pink snow during the month of June, and whose waste places are, in very truth, made to blossom like the rose at this season.
The shrub is highly prized and carefully cultivated in England. Barewood Gardens, the beautiful home of the editor of the London Times, is celebrated for its fine specimens of mountain laurel and American rhododendron. The English papers advertise the approach of the flowering season, the estate is thrown open to the public, and the people for miles around flock to see the radiant strangers from across the water. The shrub is not known there as the laurel, but by its generic title, Kalmia. The head gardener of the place received with some incredulity . my statement that in parts of America the waste hill-sides were brilliant with its beauty every June.
The ingenious contrivance of these flowers to secure cross-fertilization is most interesting. The long filaments of the stamens are arched by each anther being caught in a little pouch of the corolla; the disturbance caused by the sudden alighting of an insect on the blossom, or the quick brush of a bee's wing, dislodges the anthers from their niches, and the stamens spring upward with such violence that the pollen is jerked from its hiding-place in the pore of the anther-cell on to the body of the insectvisitor, who straightway carries it off to another flower upon whose protruding stigma it is sure to be inadvertently deposited. In order to see the working of this for one's self, it is only necessary to pick a fresh blossom and either brush the corolla quickly with one's finger, or touch the stamens suddenly with a pin, when the anthers will be dislodged and the pollen will be seen to fly.
This is not the laurel of the ancients - the symbol of victory and fame - notwithstanding some resemblance in the form of the leaves. The classic shrub is supposed to be identical with the Laurus nobilis which was carried to our country by the early colonists, but which did not thrive in its new environment.
The leaves of our species are supposed to possess poisonous qualities, and are said to have been used by the Indians for suicidal purposes. There is also a popular belief that the flesh of a partridge which has fed upon its fruit becomes poisonous. The clammy exudation about the flower-stalks and blossoms may serve the purpose of excluding from the flower such small insects as would otherwise crawl up to it, dislodge the stamens, scatter the pollen, and yet be unable to carry it to its proper destination on the pistil of another flower.
The Kalmia was named by Linnaeus after Peter Kalm, one of his pupils who travelled in this country, who was, perhaps, the first to make known the shrub to his great master.
The popular name spoonwood grew from its use by the Indians for making eating-utensils. The wood is of fine grain and takes a good polish.
The title calico-bush probably arose from the marking of the corolla, which, to an imaginative mind, might suggest the cheap cotton-prints sold in the shops.