mountain laurel, evergreen shrub ( Kalmia latifolia ) of the family Ericaceae (heath family), closely related to the rhododendron and native to E North America. The state flower of Connecticut and Pennsylvania, it has leathery leaves and large clusters of spring-blooming pink or white flowers borne at the ends of the branches. The flowers are unusual in having the anthers of the stamens held in little pockets of the corolla and released like springs when touched by an insect. Mountain laurel, called also calico bush and spoonwood, is poisonous to livestock but seldom palatable; formerly its leaves were used as a remedy for skin diseases, and spoons were made from the hard wood. Like other species of Kalmia (named for Peter Kalm) that share its poisonous quality and elastic stamens, it is an acid-soil plant. The sheep laurel or lambkill ( K. angustifolia ) has smaller, deeper pink flowers not borne at the branch tips. The true laurel belongs to a separate family. Although the leaves of Kalmia somewhat resemble in shape those of the true laurel, only the latter (sold as bayleaf) is suitable for seasoning. Mountain laurel is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Ericales, family Ericaceae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.