I’ve always wanted to have my own stand of mountain laurel.
My desire began as an adult the first time I saw Kalmia latifolia in bloom.
I was blown away by the shrub’s elegant form and eccentric branching. The flowers were uniquely cup shaped with dimpled buds that looked like cake decorations.
After that first sighting I took every opportunity to admire this beauty – mostly on mountain vacations.
When I moved to Meridian in the lower third of Mississippi, I was surprised and elated to find that mountain laurel was native practically in my own backyard.
Here in the deep south if soil conditions are right, mountain laurel grows along many of our creeks and rivers.
I was delighted to find it on the Chunky River in my own county. I have even witnessed it in full bloom in LA (lower Alabama) within 30 minutes or so from the Gulf of Mexico.
I began to purchase mountain laurel every time I happened upon nursery plants with southern genetics. Most of my plants came from my friend Tommy Dodd and were seedlings of the previously mentioned LA strains.
I planted them along my ephemeral creek, at the edge of the woods and even in front of my house.
I learned that the best time to plant a container mountain laurel here is early winter. I learned to practically bare-root the plant when I set it in the ground.
After I figured these things out, I had a pretty good survival rate. So technically… I did have stands of mountain laurel. But… there were no flowers.
It seems that plants grown from seed take longer to bloom than those grown from cuttings.
One theory is that a seedling has to accumulate a reservoir of floral hormones before it is capable of flowering. This can take as long as 20 years.
So every year about this time I begin to peer anxiously at my mountain laurels looking for a sign that this will be the year of the blossoming.
Mountain laurel flower buds are probably formed in summer. They do not become visible, however, until early winter when clusters of short scaly floral branchlets appear on the stem tips.
Last week I was walking past one of my young mountain laurels. I saw something unusual and did a double take. That’s when I spied the clusters of inconspicuous scaly little green stems.
Those anonymous sprigs didn’t look like flower buds but experience has taught me that they are.
So next May there will be a blooming mountain laurel right in front of my house! I am thrilled to say the least.