BROADLEAVED KALMIA





(Kalmia latifolia) Heath family



Flowers - Buds and new flowers bright rose pink, afterward fading

white, and only lined with pink, 1 in. across, or less, numerous,

in terminal clusters. Calyx small, 5-parted, sticky corolla like

a 5-pointed saucer, with 10 projections on outside; 10 arching

stamens, an anther lodged in each projection; 1 pistil. Stem:

Shrubby, woody, stiffly branched, 2 to 20 ft. high. Leaves:

Evergreen, entire, oval to elliptic, pointed at both ends,

tapering into petioles. Fruit: A round, brown capsule, with the

style long remaining on it.

Preferred Habitat - Sandy or rocky woods, especially in hilly or

mountainous country.

Flowering Season - May-June.

Distribution - New Brunswick and Ontario, southward to the Gulf

of Mexico, and westward to Ohio.



It would be well if Americans, imitating the Japanese in making

pilgrimages to scenes of supreme natural beauty, visited the

mountains, rocky, woody hillsides, ravines, and tree-girt uplands

when the laurel is in its glory; when masses of its pink and

white blossoms, set among the dark evergreen leaves, flush the

landscape like Aurora, and are reflected from the pools of

streams and the serene depths of mountain lakes. Peter Kalm, a

Swedish pupil of Linnaeus, who traveled here early in the

eighteenth century, was more impressed by its beauty than that of

any other flower. He introduced the plant to Europe, where it is

known as kalmia, and extensively cultivated on fine estates that

are thrown open to the public during the flowering season. Even a

flower is not without honor, save in its own country. We have

only to prepare a border of leaf-mould, take up the young plant

without injuring the roots or allowing them to dry, hurry them

into the ground, and prune back the bush a little, to establish

it in our gardens, where it will bloom freely after the second

year.



All the kalmias resort to a most ingenious device for compelling

insect visitors to carry their pollen from blossom to blossom. A

newly opened flower has its stigma erected where the incoming bee

must leave on its sticky surface the four minute orange-like

grains carried from the anther of another flower on the hairy

underside of her body. Now, each anther is tucked away in one of

the ten little pockets of the saucer-shaped blossom, and the

elastic filaments are strained upward like a bow. After hovering

above the nectary, the bee has only to descend toward it, when

her leg, touching against one of the hair-triggers of the spring

trap, pop goes the little anther-gun, discharging pollen from its

bores as it flies upward. So delicately is the mechanism

adjusted, the slightest jar or rough handling releases the

anthers; but, on the other hand, should insects be excluded by a

net stretched over the plant, the flowers will fall off and

wither without firing off their pollen-charged guns. At least,

this is true in the great majority of tests. As in the case of

hothouse flowers no fertile seed is set when nets keep away the

laurel's benefactors. One has only to touch the hair-trigger with

the end of a pin to see how exquisitely delicate is this

provision for cross-fertilization.



However much we may be cautioned by the apiculturalists against

honey made from laurel nectar, the bees themselves ignore all

warnings and apparently without evil results - happily for

flowers dependent upon them and their kin. Mr. Frank R. Cheshire,

in "Bees and Bee-keeping," the standard English work on the

subject, writes: "During the celebrated Retreat of the Ten

Thousand, as recorded by Xenophon in his 'Anabasis,' the soldiers

regaled themselves upon some honey found near Trebizonde where

were many beehives. Intoxication with vomiting was the result.

Some were so overcome, he states, as to be incapable of standing.

Not a soldier died, but very many were greatly weakened for

several days. Tournefort endeavored to ascertain whether this

account was corroborated by anything ascertainable in the

locality, and had good reason to be satisfied respecting it. He

concluded that the honey had been gathered from a shrub growing

in the neighborhood of Trebizonde, which is well known there as

producing the before-mentioned effects. It is now agreed that the

plants were species of rhododendron and azaleas. Lamberti

confirms Xenophon's account by stating that similar effects are

produced by honey of Colchis, where the same shrubs are common.

In 1790, even, fatal cases occurred in America in consequence of

eating wild honey, which was traced to Kahmia latifolia by an

inquiry instituted under direction of the American government.

Happily, our American cousins are now never likely to thus

suffer, thanks to drainage, the plow, and the bee-farm."



One of the beautiful swallow-tail butterflies lays its eggs on

laurel leaves, that the larvae may feed on them later; yet the

foliage often proves deadly to more highly organized creatures.

Most cattle know enough to let it alone; nevertheless some fall

victims to it every year. Even the intelligent grouse, hard

pressed with hunger when deep snow covers much of their chosen

food are sometimes found dead and their crops distended by these

leaves. How far more unkind than the bristly armored thistle's is

the laurel's method of protecting itself against destruction!

Even the ant, intent on pilfering sweets secreted for bees, it

ruthlessly glues to death against its sticky stems and calices.

According to Dr. Barton the Indians drink a decoction of kalmia

leaves when they wish to commit suicide.



As laurel wood is very hard and solid, weighing forty-four pounds

to the cubic foot, it is in great demand for various purposes,

one of them indicated in the plant's popular name of Spoon-wood.





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