Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Mountain Laurel Ball

The ridge of the Shenandoahs is about the last place in Virginia with spring blooms at this point, but what a riot of pink and white it is! I've hiked through Mountain Laurel in the southern Appalachians before and even seen small patches in New Hampshire, but its character is very different in full bloom. Its twisted, gloomy wood and subdued greens give way to a profusion of blossoms. Their delicate shades shift with the sunlight; tablecloth white turns to rich carnation as the sun descends toward the horizon.

I took these pictures last weekend along the Appalachian Trail between the Elk Wallow Wayside and Byrd's Nest #4. We saw a young bear, several deer, and a few thru-hikers making their way north.

Kalmia Latifolia is fond of rocky, hilly slopes and acidic soil, which is why it grows in such profuse thickets in the Shenandoahs. It is quite adaptable, however, and is found all along the Appalachians, from the northern hardwood forests of New England to the heath balds and longleaf pine forests of the Southeast. An opportunist, it tends to thrive in disturbance and may have benefited from the devastation of the American Chestnut by Chestnut Blight in the early twentieth century. Despite its tolerance for shade, it will eventually succumb to lack of light in a mature forest.

This last shot is looking west across the Shenandoah Valley. Two bends of the wonderfully serpentine South Branch of the Shenandoah River are visible.