Kalmia latifolia – Mountain Laurel
Clusters of pink buds like cake icing pipings, open to little lampshade-like bells.
This is a large shrub (up to 2.5m high), flowering in late spring. It is in the same family, Ericacea, as Rhododendrons and Azaleas and has similar, though more open, growth. Propagation by cuttings is all but impossible, so commercial propagation is done by tissue culture, which tends to make these expensive plants for some private gardeners.
K. latifolia has an unusual method of dispensing its pollen. The stamens grow under tension. When an insect lands on the flower, the tension is released, flicking the pollen onto the insect.
It comes in various shades of pink as well as white.
K. latifolia is native to mountainous forests in the Eastern USA, and it is the state flower of Connecticut. In the wild this plants grows in thickets on the forest floor. All parts of the plant are toxic if ingested, though it was used for pain relief by native American Indians.
Soil / Aspect:
Prefers acid soil. Grows best with some shade, particularly when young, but requires quite a lot of sun to flower well. So try and find a spot where it has its head in the sun when mature. It is remarkably tolerant of poor drainage when, once established. The wood is brittle, so avoid windy locations.
This is a low maintenance plant. However, it will tend to become slightly straggly as it matures. You can cut the plant back, even quite dramatically, but this must be done before the buds break. So you will lose this years flowers. Pick the dead flower heads off, as you would a Rhododendron.