Wildflowers & Trees Of Appalachia

Blooming Ivy OR Is It Blooming Mountain Laurel?

mountain ivy
Over the past week, the Ivy around my house has started to bloom. A few of you may be thinking-what Ivy doesn’t bloom? And you’re right the green vine that often overtakes everything in it’s path doesn’t bloom-but I’m talking about the shrubby bush tree like thing in the photo above. All my life-I’ve heard it called Ivy-sometimes Mountain Ivy but mostly  just Ivy. The correct name for it is Mountain Laurel.

mountain laurel in Appalachia

But this is what we call Mountain Laurel or in most cases just Laurel-see the difference from the first photo? This one isn’t blooming yet-and notice the leaves are longer, thinner, and a brighter green. The real name for this one-is Rhododendron.

The difference between mountain laurel and rhododendron

As you can see from this photo taken at the top of my driveway-Ivy (mountain laurel) and Laurel (rhododendron) often grow close together-makes it even more confusing uh?

Ivy Shrub Blooming

In places-both Ivy and Mountain Laurel grow so dense and thick-that they’re called “hells”. I’ve read accounts which claim the first men who surveyed the lines between NC and TN encountered Ivy Hells so thick that they placed boards on top of them and walked across instead of attempting to go through them. Sounds like a tall tale-but who knows maybe it’s true.

Tipper Playing in the mountain laurel thickets
One of the best play houses I had as a kid-was right in the middle of a giant old Laurel that had Ivy growing around it’s edges. The Ivy and Laurel were already there-just waiting for Pap to build our house-and for a little skinny girl to take over their branches and dark leafy floors.

For me-Mounatain Laurels will always be Ivy and Rhododendrons will always be Laurels even-if the names aren’t really right.

What about you-got Ivy, Laurel, or Rhododendron growing around your house?



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  • Reply
    June 30, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    My Dad’s family all use the names Mountain Ivy and Mountain Laurel. They grew up in the mountains of northeast Georgia. I was in college in a Horticulture class before I learned that the Ivy was really the Mountain Laurel and the Laurel was Rhododendron.

  • Reply
    May 28, 2010 at 9:14 am

    I don’t have them anywhere around here. But I remember them from back home. I don’t remember seeing thick patches of them though. But you couldn’t miss them when standing at the bottom of the mountain looking up at their beautiful blooms.

  • Reply
    May 26, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    I’ve never seen Mt Laurel growing in a native habitat, I’ve only seen the little tiny bushes at the market. Just beautiful.

  • Reply
    May 25, 2010 at 2:10 am

    Beautiful. I wish we had that kind of Ivy around here. It is poison ivy and Virginia Creeper down in the coastal south.

  • Reply
    Jay Henderson
    May 24, 2010 at 11:57 pm

    Newcomers to the mountains often are perplexed about two matters – first, why are there so many trout streams named “Laurel?” Weren’t there enough names to go around? Second, where is the laurel on these “Laurels?” Is it somewhere behind all of the rhododendron?
    The second question is easy to answer. What the flatlanders call “rhododendron” is widely known in southern Appalachia as “laurel.” The Kalmia latifolia shrubs known on the coast as laurel are called in Appalachia “mountain laurel” or “ivy.”
    This usage of “ivy” was once so common that it was a dictionary definition. It is so listed twice in the venerable Webster’s New International Dictionary (Merriam-Webster, 1913), under “ivy” (definition 3) and “ivy tree,” in both cases with the notation “Southern U.S.” In Patrick County, Virginia, where “mountain laurel” is still called “ivy,” Big Ivy Creek and Little Ivy Creek are named for the great stands of Kalmia latifolia that exist in this watershed.
    I don’t mind the name “rhododendron,” personally, but “laurel” is easier to spell.
    “Laurel hell” derives from a Scotch-Irish usage — Scottish-English “hell” or something close to it meaning (among other things) something like tangle or thicket of brush.

  • Reply
    May 24, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    Tipper cute picture. My Dad tried several times to dig up the ivy to bring home to Ohio.. The darn stuff would slap me in the face all the way home, as my baby brother had to lay in the seat and I sat on the edge over the plant…LoL. It is beautiful but Dad never got it to grow. My MawMaw finally would not let him dig anymore off the side of the hill at the homestead..

  • Reply
    Heather Rojo
    May 24, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    Loved this post! We grew up surrounded by laurel bushes. It only grows above 1,000 feet here in New England. We used to make fairy houses inside the thickets of laurel, and the blossoms were sticky so they made great crowns, earrings, and rings for “princesses”. There was a huge thicket dividing our yard from our next door neighbor. We always had graduation and prom photos in front of the laurel, and as I remember every other year it would bloom profusely. Photos taken on the “off” years weren’t as good. I enjoyed reading all the comments to your post. By the way, my name is Heather (which doesn’t grow here) and my sister is Laurel!

  • Reply
    May 24, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    I don’t have either of those. They are really pretty! If they grow that thick, they probably did walk on them with boards. You can do that here with our honeysuckle!

  • Reply
    Bob Dalsemer
    May 24, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    Mountain terminology was beyond the understanding of even poor old Cecil Sharp, the Englishman who collected ballads and square dances in Appalachia. He wrote in 1917: “… it is quite in accordance with the habit of the mountaineer to call things by their wrong names, e.g. Laurel for Rhododendron; Ivy for Laurel; Vine for Ivy; Biscuit for Scone, etc.”
    Pass the scones and gravy please!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 24, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    Tipper, you were a real little cutie…..actually you are still a real cutie!!
    I have both bushes behind my house. I call the small leafed one Laurel and the long leafed one Rhododendron.
    I depend on the Rhodies to tell me the temperature in the winter.
    When I get up on the winter morning I look out my kitchen window at the Rhodies. If there leaves are rolled up so tight they are the size of a pencil and they are black then the temperature is in the low 20’s or lower. If the leaves are rolled up the size of a cigar the temp is 25 to 30. If they are only slightly rolled and green then it’s above freezing. It’s more dependable than the weather channel.lol

  • Reply
    May 24, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    HEY TIPPER – we had a “cave” at the elementary school that was in a thicket like this – couldn’t wait until recess to go out there and play. Love the little girl picture.

  • Reply
    May 24, 2010 at 11:30 am

    We dont’ have anything like that blooming ivy. It looks like quilt blocks! Pretty cool.

  • Reply
    Fishing Guy
    May 24, 2010 at 11:22 am

    Tipper: Wonderful colors on the flower. My friend Pietro from Italy showed a similar flower today.

  • Reply
    May 24, 2010 at 11:04 am

    mountain laurel is so beautiful when the mountains are blooming with it. i think they called it laurel hell beacuse it would be as bad as walking through hell to get through it, not a place brer rabbit would want to be thrown, right>

  • Reply
    Sallie Covolo
    May 24, 2010 at 10:23 am

    Hi Tipper, I had not heard it called Ivy, (Mountain Laurel), but I always got the two mixed up, (Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron). I liked the story about the surveryors of the NC/Tn border putting boards down to walk over it. One of my ancestors was actually one of the surveyors..(Joseph Keener,Joseph was a land surveyor by trade. He was credited with working with General Clingman in surveying the North Carolina/Tennessee boundary as it is today. His last public job was to lay out city lots for the county seat for the newly formed Swain County,) but that is another story.
    When I was young I always thought Laurel would be a nice name for a daughter. And I would think of her as Mountain Laurel.

  • Reply
    May 23, 2010 at 11:05 pm

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard it called ivy. The Rhododendron is our state flower. I think it is very pretty.

  • Reply
    May 23, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    We also call them the same as you do and I love everyone of them, I also remember having a playhouse in the laurel with all the intertwining branches that was really the GOOD OLE” DAYS

  • Reply
    May 23, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    John-thank you for the comment! I think I got the link fixed-I think : )
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Music, Giveaways, Mountain Folk
    All at http://www.blindpigandtheacorn.com

  • Reply
    May 23, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    Rhododendrons won’t grow here. I don’t imagine mountain laurel will either but I love them both.

  • Reply
    barbara gantt
    May 23, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    We have 3 Rhododendron.During the winter the deer will eat the buds. I get very few blooms. Need the sweet husband to build a cover for them so I can protect their buds. They dont grow wild here like NC. We bought ours at home depot. Barbara

  • Reply
    May 23, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    Hi There, I have some blooming Rhododendrons in my yard (never heard of calling them Laurels) and a Mtn. Laurel bush blooming also. I’ve never heard of calling Laurel “Ivy” either… That’s new to me!!!!
    I will show pictures this week of our Rhody’s and our Laurel…

  • Reply
    Eva M. Wike, Ph.D.
    May 23, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    Oh Tipper: You would not believe how much trouble I have had trying to GROW Mountain Laurel (‘Bullseye’) Kalmia! Three times I planted and LOST the Laurel. I was told the pH MUST be 5.5 in order to get the Laurel to grow! Finally I have one growing here in TN – about a foot high – and it has bloomed! No sooner than the buds were ready to open than those blooming deer tried to eat it. They got the top bunch of buds and then I GOT SMART! I put bird netting over the bush and stopped their munching!
    You are right! Back in the Cove in NC we had the Mountain Laurel growing and we called it IVY! So you have surely ‘set the record straight’ and we will continue calling it Ivy!
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    May 23, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    Our state plant/flower is the rhododendron, so nearly every yard has at least one of them. The neighbors have No mountain laurel. Here the only time a plant goes by a name other than its’ actual one is when it is a gift from someone. That is why the crocosmia is called “Mrs. Ramquist lilies”.

  • Reply
    Will Dixon
    May 23, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    Kalmia Latifolia, MOUNTAIN lAUREL, CALICO BUSH. Native to Eastern North America is indeed related to the Rhododendron. We have a named variety called
    ‘Ostbo Red’ planted in our front yard in Portland, OR.
    One of my favorite evergreen shrubs.

  • Reply
    May 23, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    What a cute picture of you in your shawl! Boards across the ivy and laurel? I believe it, we used to do that to the black berries.

  • Reply
    Vicki Lane
    May 23, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    Oooh, I had fun using a Laurel Hell in the forthcoming book — And I even had a local boy and transplant girl arguing over the correct names!

  • Reply
    John Dilbeck
    May 23, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    Good afternoon, Tipper.
    Mom and Pop’s house had Mountain Laurel all across the front and one side of the house and I loved it.
    During the spring the blossoms are beautiful. In the summer the leaves are big and green. During the winter, with some practice, the leaves can be used as a thermometer. As they temperature starts to drop, the leaves start to sag. When it gets colder, they start to curl up, too. When they are hanging nearly vertically and tightly curled, you know it’s cold outside!
    I never really thought about the differences or proper names of these plants. I just love looking at them.
    There aren’t any growing around where I live now and I miss seeing them.
    All the best,
    PS. When I clicked the link to go to your page on Facebook, I was immediately redirected back here to your blog. Don’t know why.

  • Reply
    May 23, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    Thanks Tipper, I love seeing your native flora! We don’t have the ivy, as far as I know. The flowers are beautiful and the leaves do look a lot like Rhododendron, which is what we call the bush around here. Love the photo; you looked like a little pioneer!

  • Reply
    May 23, 2010 at 11:29 am

    Yup, we have a lot of mountain laurel here as well. I don’t usually like it to much only for the fact it is hard to hunt in.

  • Reply
    Pat in east TN
    May 23, 2010 at 11:15 am

    I’ve only heard of everything being referred to as Mountain Laurel, no matter if it was Laurel or Rhododendron. I’ve never heard of it being called Ivy, even by the old-timers around our farm. Funny how a few miles can make a difference in how things are referred to.
    I do remember areas so thick with them that it was like going into a cave, and ooooh the coolness was a blessing in the summer time.

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