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Plants I’m fond of: Sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia) December 7, 2012

Posted by Jenny in nature, plants, White Mountains.
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Sheep laurel in the foreground

Sheep laurel in the foreground

I took the picture above on the same trail section I described in my “Plants I’m fond of” post about black spruce. We are at the first open ledges on the Carter-Moriah trail below Mt. Surprise, looking across the valley at George—I mean, Mt. Washington. I am great friends with George.

Isn’t the color of the laurel great? It’s as if you took the color of regular mountain laurel and intensified it. The Wikipedia article calls the color “crimson-pink.” That’s probably about the best you can do to describe it. The word “crimson” can mean more of a red than a pink, but it also carries the meaning of “vivid,” which is exactly right. This is an intense color that appears in its most concentrated form in tiny dots circling around the base of the five fused petals.

Close-up

Beautiful blossoms

For “five” is the magic number of laurel, just as “three” is the magic number of trillium. Five sepals, five petals, ten stamens. The overall shape is a rounded pentagon.

A musician plays a “variation on a theme,” and this is a variation on the laurel theme, played on a flute rather than the clarinet of the mountain laurel. I love regular laurel too, much larger and grander than sheep laurel, but I have a special fondness for this plant. It is a boreal plant that grows at increasingly high elevations as you move south along the Appalachians. It doesn’t make it as far as the Smokies.

Sheep laurel has the interesting feature that each stem bears leaves at the top, with the blossoms clustered around the stem further down. You see this clearly in the top photo.

By the way, the reason I didn’t use this photo in my black spruce post, even though this is a place I mentioned there, is that the spruce you see in it are red spruce. The black spruce are to the photographer’s back, tucked into the shadows of the taller trees.

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