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The Fascinating Structure of Mountain Laurel

Hello Gardeners, I’m Amanda McNulty with Clemson Extension and Making It Grow. The flowers on mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia, are usually a delicate pink and are borne in showy clusters. Upon closer examination, they are fascinating structures – the petals are fused like a cup and have small depressions that look like dots of deeper pink scattered all over – sometimes they are called calico flowers for that reason. These depressions are   actually stamen pockets. Stamens, of course, are the male flower parts and the tips of the stamens – the pollen bearing anthers – are tucked into these pockets and held there under tension. When an insect – bumblebees are the major pollinators of these flowers – visits, it triggers those springs and pollen is sprayed throughout the air – sometimes to flowers on neighboring mountain laurel plants. . If an insect doesn’t visit the flower, the tension gradually releases and the pollen at least gets scattered around inside that particular blossom.

Amanda McNulty is a Clemson University Extension Horticulture agent and the host of South Carolina ETV’s Making It Grow! gardening program. She studied horticulture at Clemson University as a non-traditional student. “I’m so fortunate that my early attempts at getting a degree got side tracked as I’m a lot better at getting dirty in the garden than practicing diplomacy!” McNulty also studied at South Carolina State University and earned a graduate degree in teaching there.