2018, June 2018, Plant trivia

Mountain Laurel tricks

Mountain Laurel, or Kalmia latifolia, is an evergreen New England native that lights up the woodland border in late spring/early summer. Depending on the variety, they prefer part sun to shade, acid soil, and grow to be 3-8 feet tall, although most are in the 4-5 foot range. They are a lovely addition to the natural woodland margin garden, and need no more marketing than that. But did you know that they have a really clever mechanism for getting pollinated?

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Mountain Laurel flowers are cup shaped, and grow in clusters. The “cups” have tiny pockets arranged evenly around the inside, and as the stamens grow, their filaments (the stalk-like part) bend backwards, allowing their anthers (the part that holds the pollen) to tuck neatly into the pockets. When an unsuspecting bee lands in the middle of the flower, these spring-loaded stamens catapult towards it, hitting it with their anthers and depositing pollen on its back. They can fling their pollen almost 6 inches when this happens. And when the bee flies away, some of the filaments will even bend backwards again and tuck themselves back into place.

Although I don’t recommend doing this often because too much of it could harm the plant, try poking the center of a Mountain Laurel flower sometime when you see one. You will experience what happens to the bee as the anthers spring forward and deposit their pollen on your finger. Isn’t Nature remarkable?!

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