“Rarely if ever before have the Arboretum Laurels (Kalmia latifolia) been as full of flower-buds as they are now, and by the time this bulletin reaches its Massachusetts readers many of the plants will be covered with flowers. The flowering of the Laurels is the last of the great Arboretum flower shows of the year, and none of those which precede it are more beautiful, for the Mountain Laurel, or the Calico Bush as it is often called, is in the judgment of many flower-lovers the most beautiful of all North American shrubs or small trees.” So wrote Charles Sprague Sargent, the first director of the Arnold Arboretum, in June of 1916. 107 years later, I am watching the best mountain laurel bloom in my thirteen springs here.

I found a couple of very old postcards that depict the mountain laurels at the peak of their collective bloom, a seemingly endless stretch of whites, pinks, and even reds at the base of Hemlock Hill. The upper image is from circa 1915, showing the Olmsted designed carriage road with its graceful curve ever revealing something just on the horizon. The lower image is a roughly equivalent shot that I took this past week. The sidewalks are long gone (as is the horse and buggy!) and the mountain laurels have crept much closer to the carriageway. If you look at the woody shoots of the older plants, you will see that they have been trying to outrun the encroaching shade of the hemlocks behind them.

Vintage postcard (circa 1915) of mountain laurel plantings along Hemlock Hill Road.
Arnold Arboretum Archives
Mountain laurels blooming along Hemlock Hill Road in 2023
Ned Friedman

For fun information about how mountain laurels fling their pollen at high speeds to attach to the surface of their pollinators, head here to a previous Post from the Collections. And to read the June 15, 1916 issue of the Bulletin of Popular Information (a predecessor of Arnoldia), head here.