It doesn’t happen all at once and sometimes not at all, but when it does it happen, it’s a particularly beautiful thing. Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is in bloom, at least around my town.
Come May and early June, as many different Rhododendrons and azaleas come into bloom, the often overlooked Mountain laurel, a close relative of rhododendrons and azaleas, comes into flower at different places around New York Harbor. An individual plant is picky and selective, and does not bloom every year.
But when it does bloom it gives forth a delicate star-shaped or white and pink saucer-shaped fragrant flower. Certainly one of the most beautiful flowers from a native North American shrub. A member of the heath family.
This shade-tolerant shrub has been delighting people for centuries. Mountain laurel was first recorded growing in American forests in 1624. The plant was brought to Europe as an ornamental plant during the 18th century where it is commonly cultivated for its eye-catching flowers even today.
In the eastern United States, Mountain laurel can still be found growing profusely alongside mountains and atop rocky ridges. It can also be discovered growing in high altitude places around New York Harbor, including the Navesink Highlands and the hills of Staten Island. This large shrub is also part of the beautiful flower displays that takes place at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden every spring. Mountain Laurel can be spotted as well in the Discovery Garden, Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, and Native Flora Garden. Additionally, it is the state flower of both Connecticut and Pennsylvania.
Look for the flowers quickly. Mountain laurel does not bloom for long. Once it’s gone you will have missed an infrequent flower and a rare natural event.