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White wicky

Making It Grow Radio Minute
SC Public Radio

A relative of our beloved mountain laurel is Kalmia angustifolia, called white wicky or sheep-kill. Like all members of the genus, every part of this plant is extremely toxic to humans and animals, as are imported and native rhododendrons and azaleas. However, insects that co-evolved along with these plants are not affected, this includes honeybees. In 67 B C E, Pompey the Great was pursuing the Persian Army. The Persians collected local honey which contained the toxic rhododendron compounds and left it for the Romans who became so ill that the Persians snuck back and slaughtered them. There is a story that Federal troops ate local mountain honey during the Civil War and were temporarily affected but recovered. Fortunately, our honey is now collected from enough sources and blended that it is safe to consume.

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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.