Mountain Laurel by Jason HollingerPhoto by Jason Hollinger

Fast Facts

  • Adopted the Pennsylvania state flower in 1933
  • Botanical name: Kalmia latifolia
  • Also the state flower of Connecticut
  • Commonly called the Ivybush, Calico Bush, and Sheep Laurel
  • Mountain laurel trivia: Native American people fashioned spoons out of the bark of the mountain laurel, which they called “spoonwood.”
  • Pennsylvania Flower Delivery

Each spring and summer, the woods of Pennsylvania bask in the glow of countless pink mountain laurel blossoms. The glorious evergreen plant is the Pennsylvania state flower for good reason: it’s everywhere! By mid-June, sunny mountainsides from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh are covered with mountain laurel flowers.

Kalmia latifolia, Maudslay State Park, Newburyport, MA, June blossoms, thicket on right bank of Merrimack River by BottevillePhoto by Botteville

The Pennsylvania state flower is actually an evergreen shrub that’s related to the rhododendron. It grows in open stands or openings of spruce-fir forests and generally reaches between 6-10 feet tall. Mountain laurel does particularly well in the Appalachian Mountains and can be found in much of the eastern United States. Beginning in late spring and early summer, clusters of delicate blooms open in umbrella-like fashion in red, pink or white. Because a single bush can produce many flowers, a hillside of blooming mountain laurel looks spectacular. Each year, nature lovers from Allentown to Waterford head to the mountains to catch the Pennsylvania state flower in bloom.

Despite its popularity, the mountain laurel wasn’t a shoe-in as the Pennsylvania state flower. When the issue was discussed in the 1930s, the Pennsylvania General Assembly was so in doubt about which flower should represent the state that it sent the governor bills naming two different flowers as Pennsylvania’s favorite: the mountain laurel and the pink azalea. In the end, then Gov. Gifford Pinchot (and, according to some accounts, his wife) chose the mountain laurel. Today, no doubt Pennsylvanians everywhere are glad he did.

Source links:

USDA Forest Service http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/shrub/kallat/all.html

Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/forestry/mountainlaurel.aspx