The Trek for Sheep Laurel by Lisa Densmore
One of my early summer delights is spotting a patch of Sheep Laurel (kalmia angustifolia) on a mountain when its showy pink flowers are blooming. Last weekend, I found some while hiking with my family up Catamount, just north of Whiteface Mountain, in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks. I’ve always loved the hike up Catamount. Though I put it in my guidebook, Hiking the Adirondacks (FalconGuides, 2010), it remains off most hikers’ radar because it’s summit elevation is under 4,000 feet. I don’t mind having the route to myself. It’s an entertaining climb with lots of rock slab to traverse and many rock chimneys to scramble up and down. Now I love it even more upon discovering one of my favorite wildflowers near its top.
Sheep Laurel is technically a flowering 3-foot tall boreal shrub. It’s native to eastern North America from Ontario and Quebec south to Virginia. Though it has narrow green leaves rather than needles, it is evergreen similar to its relative Mountain Laurel and to Rhododendron.
Its 3/8-inch pink cupped flowers are bee and butterfly attractors. When blooming, its flowers grown in clusters below the end of each stem, making the plant look like it fell out of the pages of a Dr. Seuss book. Perhaps that’s why I’m so fond of it, but only to look at it. Most of the plant contains andromedotoxin. Sheep Laurel has been known to kill both wild and domestic grazers, hence its nicknames, lambkill, sheepkill, calfkill, pig laurel and sheep poison. Don’t worry. I do not have plans to eat it.