you are looking for a spring-flowering shrub beyond the
typical azaleas, consider native mountain laurel.
laurel is a beautiful native flowering shrub well used
as an ornamental or shrub border," says Helen
Hamilton, past president of the John Clayton Chapter,
Virginia Native Plant Society, and retired biology
teacher living in Williamsburg, Va. Learn more about the
native plant society at www.vnps.org.
and multi-stemmed, mountain laurel grows six to eight
feet tall and wide, with evergreen, glossy leaves that
change from light green to dark to purple throughout the
year. The plant provides beneficial hiding places for
wildlife during winter, Hamilton continues.
laurel, scientifically called Kalmia latifolia, blooms
April through June, producing star-shaped buds in
rounded clusters, followed by white to pink flowers. The
center of each flower features a red ring around the
white style with green stigma; this is the female part
of the flower that does not mature until the pollen
disperses, continues Hamilton. The male part is dark
anthers on 10 arched filaments that are tucked into
pouches on the flower.
a large bee or other visitor lands in the flower,
seeking the nectar deep in the center, the filaments are
bent under the weight of the insect, and the anthers are
jarred loose, dumping pollen on the insect’s
body," says Hamilton. That insect then deposits the
pollen on other flowers as it feeds. If the stigma is
receptive, the flower is ready to produce seed.
easy to tell if a flower has been pollinated — just
look for the discharged stamens."
laurel is a member of the Heath family, and loves acidic
soils, well-drained soils and part shade – similar to
azaleas and rhododendrons. The shrub prefers morning
shade, and greatly dislikes excessive sun as well as
the right growing conditions, mountain laurel is a
slow-growing low-maintenance plant that tolerates
drought," says Hamilton.
plant furnishes nectar for bees and butterflies in the
spring and fruit and seeds for birds and other wildlife
in the fall. Many cultivars are available in the nursery
trade with intense bud and flower colors, and dwarf
laurel grows in every county in Virginia, and ranges
throughout the eastern United States and Canada. Huge
patches of the plant form in the Appalachian Mountains
on high, rocky hillsides.
Laurel is host plant for the caterpillars of the laurel
sphinx moth. Deer usually leave the plant alone,
according to Hamilton.
cloak, or Nymphalis antiopa, is often the first
butterfly seen in early spring as it emerges from winter
hibernation in tree holes or under loose bark, according
to Hamilton. It has an inch-long body and two- to
four-inch dark wings that are fringed with a rough
scalloped edge in creamy white.
else looks like this big butterfly," she says.
name "mourning cloak" may come from the
purple-black coloring of the wings. When at rest or in
hibernation the wings are folded together and predators
can see only the drab blackish brown underside.
butterflies feed on rotting fruit, flower nectar and
tree sap, especially oak trees. Walking upside down the
tree, they drink from holes created by woodpeckers or
from wounds in the bark, Hamilton explains.
occurs early in spring. Females lay 30 to 50 eggs,
encircling twigs of a host tree or shrub, preferring
willows, hackberry, cottonwood, paper birch, and
American elm. Adults emerge in early summer, June or
July, occasionally feeding on flower nectar. They thrive
anywhere in North America and central Mexico where there
are host plants, including woods, parks and suburbs.
summer heat, the butterflies become inactive, and are
seen again in early fall to feed and store fat for
eggs, caterpillars and adults, the butterflies are food
for many other creatures, according to Hamilton.
so, adults can live almost a year, making them the
longest-lived butterflies," she says.