Thursday, June 11, 2009

Mountain Laurel or Ivy Bush?

"Can you please stop here?? That looks like mountain laurel blooming and I've never seen it in bloom, only in pictures." I ask Mr. Fix-it while on a sight seeing trip with his parents and the Jimster in the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina.

"That's not mountain laurel, that's an 'Ivy Bush'." says father in law.

"Ivy bush?? That can't be ivy, ivy does NOT grow that way and doesn't grow in a bush form. Even if it did, it would not bloom like that!" says an incredulous me.

"Yes! That IS an ivy bush. That is NOT mountain laurel. See over there? That IS a mountain laurel!" states Father-in-law.

I look to where the 'real' laurel was located according to my FIL, and what do I see? A rhododendron.

Hmmmm, I'm thinking to myself. Gee, FIL grew up in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee, surely he knows what a rhododendron versus a mountain laurel looks like. Perhaps I am wrong.

"Hey, let's stop and get a few branches so we can identify it later." says I.
"Oh yes, you are wrong and we'll see that." All the while I can tell my FIL is thinking, "I am right, I am SO right, that white ole bloom is NOT laurel. Tina is wrong."

"Perhaps we can stop at a nursery here in the mountains? Perhaps even that cool little nursery you told me about where the guy has the nursery at his house right in this area?" I ask plaintively, trying to placate my FIL. I am seriously thinking I am wrong and want to have him proved correct.

"Sure. Turn off here Roger. It ain't but 3o minutes away." One hour later after driving on a gravel road thru a precipitous mountain gorge area, we arrive at my father in law's local nursery.

"HE will know for sure. Seeings how he's from around these parts." says rather irate FIL.

"Oops! The gate is closed. No Tuesday hours. Uh oh. Now what do we do?" says I.

Just about that time a nice lady runs out of her house and flags us down. She says, "He'll be back in a little bit! You can wait in my driveway if you like."

"Little bit??? How long IS that in 'mountain talk'? And can we wait?" You can tell I am getting a bit irritated with 'mountain talk'.

"Well I don't know HOW long it is, but it won't hurt to wait a bit."says FIL.

All this time the MIL and Mr. Fix-it were sitting quietly, not adding to the conversation at all. Can't say as I blame them. Now the Jimster, he had no problem trying to referee. In his words he was Switzerland, as in he was neutral and just wanted everyone to get a long.

Turns out a 'little bit' was mere minutes. Over walks this nice looking middle aged man. He peers in the window and I hold up the white flowered branch and ask what is it?

"Why that's mountain laurel. Grows all over the place around here." he replies jovialy. Not realizing he just proved FIL wrong and me right.

Good thing I could not see FIL's face. I am sure it was not a happy face.

I next hold up the 'laurel branch' and ask what is it?

"Why that's rhododendron."

"Hey now wait a minute. Isn't that ivy bush???" Asks FIL, now incredulous himself.

"Yup, the old timers around here call it ivy bush, but it is laurel. And they do call the rhododendron 'laurel'. Not sure why, but they do. But it IS mountain laurel and rhododendron."

Uh huh.

Do you think that is the end of it?

"Nope, it IS still an ivy bush and laurel and who cares about those fancy old names anyhow?" says FIL.

"Well, if you were to go buy one you would need to know the right name in order to get the right plant." I tell him.

"Nah, if I wanted one I'd never buy it, I'd just come up here and dig it or ask my kin for some. They would always get me the right thing when I ask for an ivy bush since it is an ivy bush."

Oh yes, we all have our own regional names for plants and maybe sometimes one can get too hooked on the 'right name'. And anyhow, who am I to say what the right name is anyhow? Obviously the scientific name is what I know as Kalmia latifolia, aka mountain laurel, but it is also known as Ivy bush, calico bush, lambkill, and who knows what else.

There is one thing for sure, no matter what the scientific name is, that ole bush is still an 'ivy bush' according to my FIL. That is fine, I can adapt and thank goodness that matter is settled, at least until the next time. Now what about that blue snowball bush?? That's NOT a hydrangea.:)

in the garden....

I tried to find out why the locals call mountain laurel an ivy bush to no avail. We even called in to a local radio program to ask the public if they knew why locals call the laurel an ivy bush. No luck. When I heard Andrea Wulf talk about the history of gardening, I thought she might have an idea as she is well versed on plant lore. She had no idea why mountain laurel is called an ivy bush either, but did state our first President, George Washington, also called mountain laurel an ivy bush, but she doesn't know why.

Does anyone have any idea what the lore is about this name for the mountain laurel? I have an idea why it is called ivy bush, but it is only a guess and I don't like to do those too often, so if you can set us straight on the history-please let me know either through comments or my email at

I failed to take a picture of the mountain laurel, a very beautiful mountain plant in the same family (Ericaceae) as rhododendrons, but Janet of Queen of Seaford kindly provided me an excellent photo of the laurel and rhododendron. If you've never seen the laurel, you're missing a treat. Just look at how those flowers are cut. They were quite lovely and very different from rhodies. While the laurel was blooming, we were too early to see the rhododendrons in bloom, but the Roan Mountain Botanical Garden was simply splendid even when not in bloom. The first picture shows my venerable FIL reading the sign at Roan Mountain. The second photo is the overlook at the gardens. Everything that does not look like an evergreen Christmas tree is a rhododendron. You can imagine how spectacular that view would be when all are in full bloom!


  1. Oh Tina, what a totally delightful story! I can hear you getting disgusted with mountain talk, you yankee you! HA Your FIL is a force to be reckoned with, an immovable object it sounds like. Good for him! The old timers around here call some plants by other names too, like buttercups for daffodils, and they will never call it anything else, just because. But that is part of the charm of this region. We have seen the laurels and rhodies at Roan Mountain, we used to live not far from there at our previous TN home. We have seen them near here at the base of the Appalachians on the Cherohola Skyway too. We have even tried to grow them here, but alas, the drought killed them.

  2. Great story Tina, glad you checked more about the Ivy Bush. George Washington called it Ivy Bush too eh? I love mountain laurels, they are so pretty this time of year.

  3. The bush (tree) we call Texas Mountain Laurel has a strong scent of purple Kool-aide. I can always identify it because of that
    smell! :)

  4. Good thing ivy doesn't do well up here (only on collages, it seems) Mountian Laurel will always be mtn laurel! //*_*//

  5. LOL!!! Tina, thanks for the side order of giggles with my coffee this morning!! You are brave to challenge FIL...Me, I would suffer in silence..and just be satisfied to know I was RIGHT..haha!! My problem is usually pronouncing the name incorrectly (or differently) than someone else! Thanks for the laugh :) :) :)

  6. Tina,
    If you asked FIL to dig one from the mountains for you, I wonder which one you would get? :)Better ask for one of each. I'd ask for a mountain laurel and an ivy bush.:D

  7. Hi there! Aren't we funny people...It would have been hard for me to hold my tongue about plants, even to my FIL! But, what an interesting bit of Appalachian history...


  8. Tina that is hilarious. I had no idea that Mountain Laurel was also called Ivy Bush. And no idea why either! lol

  9. Good morning you all!

    Frances, Are you a southerner or Yankee? I remember you lived in PA for a while. Important question because only a Southerner would catch the Yankee part:) You bet! I'm a northerner but come on, that mountain talk goes a bit far. I haven't even posted about the calycanthus yet. Now THAT one I can totally understand. You must've lived near where my inlaws live. The Hickory area. I love it there. Even the folks, my FIL is just a bit set and I am so not one to hold my tongue. Ha! That Roan Mountain was simply spectacular! I loved the garden even not in bloom. I have a kalmia here. It's been here three-four years. I ordered three and two died. One hangs on. Andrea told me it took Peter Collins 22 years to bring his to bloom! I have a long wait. Sigh. I do love the mountains so I'll keep it. Your area is quite special.

    Janet, Oh yes, so pretty! Maybe you can learn something about Ivy Bush at the learning garden? Have you ever heard of this? It is quite a matter and we must settle it:) Why ivy bush?

    Linda, I'd love a plant that smelled like purple koolaid! Cool or should I say Kool!?:)

    Dawn, My sentiments exactly. But at least I know around him to call it ivy bush;)

    Lynn, You are welcomed. A smarter me might have left well enough alone but I could not believe ivy bush?? Oh no, not me. I must say he's taught me a few things, but now he's learned from me too!

    Donna, Oh yes, I'd ask for 3 of each! I'll find a spot somewhere for sure!

    Gail, That area if full of history indeed. All them hollars and all. What a place. Gotta love it.

  10. Sweet Bay, Glad you liked it! I had no idea either but after Googling it you can clearly see it is called that. Problem is NO website or says why?? I hope someone will know.

  11. Reminds me of the James Taylor song

    Even the old folks never knew
    Why they call it like they do
    I was wondering since the age of two
    Down on copperline

    I miss not being able to grow them in the northern midwest--by whatever name;)

  12. Tina,
    I've searched every where and can't find an answer to that question either. How odd...--Randy

  13. Tina, this is so funny! It reminds me of some of the conversations I used to have with my father-in-law, though not about gardening. Glad you got this settled, and actually you were both right. Regional names can be confusing. I read several UK blogs and am confused by some of the plants they show, until I realize they often have different names for a plant than we. And last fall Lola sent me some buttercups; I had no idea what I was getting:)

  14. Hi Tina, that was an amazing story. I've heard them called by both names. Will see if I can find out why from my friends that live there.
    Yes, I've always called them buttercups. I've heard them called the other name but didn't know what they were talking about.
    It intrigues me as to the different names for different areas.

  15. OMG Tina, that is too funny! You are such a stubborn cuss girl. Dont you know you never challenge a man of the hill country? You may get your Southern Passport taken away from you woman! LOL

    I called daffodils buttercups for years but now call them daffodils or daffys because most people I know call them that. My grandmother called phlox, thrift so I called it thrift for years until Mother in Law set me straight on that one.

    We had a beautiful bush in our backyard that my grandmother called a Japonica Bush. I put that in the computer and got tons of stuff. My mom says it was a Quince but I think not. I found lots of things considered Japonica Bush and I believe the one we had was a Chaenomeles Japonica...

    Funny the regional aspect on plants and not just plants. We were watching on TV last night how they make hotdogs and they said that according to region of the country, they put in different spices! So the hotdogs will appeal to those in that region. Imagine that, different regions for hotdog tastes! too funny...

  16. I did a bit more research and some people do call the Chaenomeles flowering quince but it is not so some say. So confusing indeed....

  17. What a great story - you told it so well I sat here snickering all along. Nothing like holding your tongue when talking to FIL. LOL I've always wanted an Ivy Bush . . . er . . . Mountain Laurel and don't know why I haven't gotten one. They look so pretty.

  18. Funny story and you did a great job telling it so we all could enjoy it very much.

    Nana dug up a Mt Laurel in the Berkshire (probably spelled wrong)Mts. in Mass one year and planted it in the corner where the laundry room and second bathroom join together. It was a good sheltered spot but it still did not live.:(

  19. and of course all rhodies and
    native azaleas lumped together as

  20. Tina,
    A great comedy skit! :-)

    I'll bet you heard calycanthus called Sweet Bubby Bush? That's what my grandmother called it.

    BTW, here's the link to the NC State University where the common name is ivy bush:

    Scientific Name
    Kalmia latifolia
    Common Name
    Mountain laurel, mountain ivy, ivy bush


  21. That's a funny story, I've never heard of "ivy bush" either. Mountain Laurel really is a very pretty flower, I convinced my sister to buy some for her yard since I didn't have room for any in mine :)

  22. I know them as Mountain Laurel too. I remember seeing them along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. Funny how plants get numerous names. Centranthus Rubra, Jupiter's Beard, Red Valerian is another that comes to mind. Great story Tina!

  23. Marnie, This is right! They don't know why they call it as they do yet they still do. Funny people and a long time thing it would seem. I like that song.

    Randy, If you do find out why, please let me know!

    Rose, yes FILs can be funny guys. Especially old fashioned ones who wound up with a liberated daughter in law. He still can't get over it. Buttercups, yup-that's another one! I learned it here. In Maine buttercups are a totally different thing. Names can be so confusing!

    Lola, Please do try to find out! I really would love to know. Yup, you being from here definitely know buttercups. A funny name I've had to adjust to.

    Skeeter, Oh yes, passport was never really fully given but I take it anyhow! Ha! The south is still fighting that ole war but we won't go there. Now I know quince. Chaeneomeles is quince. It is known as japonica? Never knew that one. Very interesting. I can see the hotdog thing. Sounds good for lunch now!

    Linda, So glad you enjoyed it! Even funner in person. My FIL is a diehard southerner and mountain guy too. North met South is true with us!

    Mom, Yup, it was fun. I prepared it while still in NC. Thought you all would enjoy. Mountain laurels seem picky about growth conditions. Too bad Nana's died!

    Marci, Oh how true! And prior to learning better I surely thought a laurel was the same thing too:) Wonder why?

    Cameron, Oh yes, my FIL taught me all about the Sweet Bubbie bush. That post will come later. It was supposed to come like last year but I've been delayed. I did a whole presentation on it in school. More mountain talk but no disputing that one, I know the reason why it's called that. I checked the link but no one seems to know why it is called ivy bush. Lambkill we know, calico we can figure out, but ivy? I hope someone will know why.

    Catherine, I hope your sister's laurel is doing great. They are so doggoned unique I love em! Glad you enjoyed the story.

    Kathleen, Oh yes, plants and their names. It is a wonder we can even figure out what the heck we are each talking about and sometimes I still get confused.

  24. I love it when everyone is at least part right.
    You write such good dialogue - I really could "hear" the whole conversation going on. Not always easy to write in that format!

  25. Ha! In laws! I admire your persistence. I sometimes try to argue a case with people who are stuck in their ways with their garden beliefs (against shearing trees and rhododendrons into lollipops, for instance), but I always end up giving up, exasperated.

  26. JGH, It sure helps to salve sore feelings when we can walk away from an argument with our dignity. I hope my father in law did and I have no problem with ivy bush but am glad I got the correct identification:) And thanks on the nice compliment. It was fun! Glad I could share it.

    Megan, Yup, sometimes you just have to give up. I've been known to give up on the same subjects you mention. Topping trees is a hot button issue that no matter what you cannot argue with proponents. I stuck to my guns for sure but had I been wrong-oh boy-I'd never live it down. FILs indeed!

  27. People do call things different names that is for sure! I guess as long as you are looking for the plant at the local nursery they should know what you are talking about..."Say you know that there bush that grows in the mountains?"
    To funny(-:
    Anyhow loved your name for my new creation and I gave you credit for it on my blog(-: Thanks! I really enjoyed it(-:

  28. Tina, I love your telling of the story. I can imagine the expressions on everyone's face as I read it. You would make a great playwright. And I love the mystery as to the Kalmia's common name's origin. Brave girl you are to disagree with the FIL!

  29. Oh I don't know your FIL, but my first instinct was that of being very glad you were proved right. I was just going to contribute that the flowers were phenominal, I've not seen them before, but then I started reading and got madder and madder.

    All right, enough of that. I've come from C&G Design's blog, as I was one of the "6" I wanted to check out the other 6's. I wrote about it today at my blog, and was going to explore yours to see if you were participating.

    I'm from MN, but living in FL (by Naples) where nothing grows like it is supposed to (well, like I'd like it to or remember it as). I've nearly ceased gardening altogether.

    Your blog is very informative - and I've saved it to my favorites. Although mine is not a gardening one, I hope you come to visit me. Occassionally I do have what's growing in my gardens, or my dad, mom, sister's in photo form.

    My blog is called MaidenShade Matters - my store is MaidenShade and I make lampshades, night lights etc.

    Okay, enough about me, nice to meet you and I do hope you come to visit at


  30. What a funny story, hope FIL isn't upset anymore. ;) I've noticed in different parts of the country that they have common names for plants that are a bit odd. What a glorious bloom no matter the name. lol

  31. Cindee, Thanks! Glad you liked the name. TC did the same for me on something I posted and loved the comment so I took a chance you'd like it too. It fits huh??

    W2W, Oh yes, you just don't know how brave I am to disagree with this guy. Thankfully I love my husband tremendously and stop before I go too far:) It's behind us now. Glad you liked the write up! A bit of a different style for me but every now and then I go there. It was fun.

    Maidenshade, Thanks so much for stopping by! You are one smart blogger to not only check out other blogs in a meme but to leave a comment. Gives one so much exposure. I enjoyed your history and thanks for telling it! Your blog name is so fitting for you blog. At first I thought you were a shade gardener:) Can you tell my mind is always in the garden?:)

    Racquel, He'll always be upset about it I think, but we agree to disagree. We both say it is 'both' now. He knows he is right and I know I am right and we leave well enough alone:) It is such a cool flower~! Cut out areas were way neat. Never seen it before myself. These are most common in the Smokies.

  32. I love this story start to finish. It's just hilarious and also educational. :)

  33. I enjoyed every bit of it! Someone else had also mentioned about how difficult it is to write in this format...I agree! But again, another wonderful post.

    Talking about names, I grew up thinking that Crepe Myrtles were "Japanese Roses". And this went on for YEARS! If I'd started blogging much earlier...:) Remember your post about Southern Belles? It was only then that I came to know the real name. Thanks to you. I should've told you this before. And every time I see a Crepe Myrtle...I think about you.

    For us, many of the English names are not as common as the local names. Sometimes confusion becomes more confounded!

  34. Tina --you are something else:0) I am sitting here laughing thinking about this --I would've sided with the Jimster --took Switzerland, hahaha. We weren't allowed to pick the Mt. Laurel back home --state flower. It was all over and yes quite pretty. Hmm, yes I was a Yankee --many moons ago, lol. Lots of rumbling out this way and lightening. Ciao!

  35. Monica, Glad you enjoyed it!

    Kanak, Such a nice story. I wonder why crepes are called Japanese roses? I wish I could take credit for that very excellent post, but Skeeter did it. And yes-names are very confusing.

    Anonymous, Glad you liked you to my fellow used to be Yankee! Lightening like crazy here. Shutting down the computer again. And hey let me tell you-let it rain let it rain let it rain.....!

  36. OMG what a funny story! You told it so well! I love how persistance you were. I would have been too! :) -Jackie

  37. Tina, loved the story. Must have been an interesting drive after the visit to the nursery. :) Whatever the name, they were beautiful and worth finding out about. Thanks for the smile.

  38. The only reason I could see why they would call it Ivy bush is because of the its poisonous properties. maybe the name stuck but the story got lost along the way.

  39. Jackie, We liberated women tend to speak our minds, no doubt about it. A good thing I think. Persistent is me for sure!

    Beckie, Glad you liked it. FIL is pretty set in his ways but it's all good. Hope you are feeling better.

    Ben, I think you are right! Or at least on the right track. Laurel is called lambkill because it is poisonous so it makes sense for it to be called ivy bush also because it is poisonous. My runner up theory was they called it ivy since it it grows so prolifically like ivy, but I think that is wrong and you are much closer. What a shame to lose the story of the origin of the name.

  40. That was an interesting read. In fact I too prayed that your FIL be right, as I was expecting that it might lead to a major tension in the air if he was proved wrong. At least I hope it wasn't bad, but of course, the fine gardener that you are, you seemed to identify it right. You should pat yourself for that.

    That name confusions happen a lot here - think about a plant being called different names in at least 5 major languages and think about another plant sharing a similar-sounding name in a different language! (I'm not sure if I said it right or confused you with a clumsy explanation)

  41. Tina, contacted my gardening friend in N.C. & she had no real reason for the name of Ivy. Only explanation was that the older generations of long ago just called it Ivy till someone came along & gave it the name that some call it today. Older generations still call it Ivy. Either way it is pretty.

  42. Chandramouli, Names are so very confusing yes indeed. Especially across countries. FIL and I both have a strong love for the man we have in common (his son and my husband) so we all keep the peace. A nice thing so it's all good:0

    Lola, Ah the mystery remains. Such a shame to lose the story and I know there is one somewhere. I still go back to the poison bit like Ben said but can't be sure. Maybe someday.

  43. The hilarity!! I love the term "mountain talk." Beautiful photos of the mountains! I'm not so fond of inlaws and both my parents and my husband's parents are divorced so it's 2x as bad!!