Appalachia Wildflowers & Trees Of Appalachia

Mountain Laurel Vs. Mountain Ivy

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 Mountain Laurel (rhododendron) often grow close together-which makes it even more confusing uh?

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

Tipper 1970 something-Granny crocheted back then too-check out my shawl

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

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

What about you-do you have Ivy or Mountain Laurel growing around your house?


This post was originally published here on the Blind Pig in May of 2010.

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  • Reply
    June 10, 2020 at 7:57 am

    I know this is an old post but I just had say I was taught the same as you, ivy and laurel. Both are beautiful!

  • Reply
    b. ruth
    May 25, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    A good way to remember the difference according to my Smoky Mountain Wildflower book, when not in bloom…Short leaf, short name Laurel/Ivy…Long leaf, long name Rhododendren…They generally bloom at differant times, sometimes overlaping…The bloom of a Flame, Pinkster, Azalea looks like a vine honeysuckle with long pistel and stamans curled upwards..The Mountain Laurel bloom is cup shape with a trick mechanism for the stamens..
    There are hybrids now on the balds intermixing with various colors…the Laurel is generally only light pink, white to darker pink…
    That’s my observations through the years…
    Thanks Tipper,
    Daddy told of his huntin’ dogs getting lost in Laurel hells. Also during the Civil War, the Laurel thickets where great places for deserters that were generally impartial either North or South….though some were stirring up a vote!
    You know that the little people live in them as well…so if you hear a faint musical fluting sound, squat and listen you might hear them dancing and laughing!

  • Reply
    RB Redmond
    May 25, 2013 at 1:04 am

    Not sure, but I don’t think we have either, but we do have rhododendrons aplenty.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    May 24, 2013 at 11:01 pm

    I know I’m late chiming in but thought you might like to see Texas Mountain Laurel: -or-
    These are also lovely and have an almost overpowering fragrance which you will notice from quite a ways away.
    One thing not mentioned in the web references: kids love to take the beans from the ripe pods, rub them firmly and rapidly against a rough rock, then chase each other in order to “burn” their friends. The beans do become unusually hot and retain the heat for several minutes! Sometimes there’s just no rhyme or reason to what kids think is fun!!

  • Reply
    May 24, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    Yes, we have both. And we call them Mountain Laurel (not ivy) and Rhododendren. We consider ivy to be vines that climb or creep on the ground, not established plants like laurel. We have a “tunnel” of rhododendren in the woods near the creek. So peaceful.

  • Reply
    May 24, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    I don’t have much, but there’s a lot of Mountain Laurel in my area, and it really is a problem in forested places where it prevents regeneration of trees. I’ve never tried to walk over it, but once when I was doing a survey in the woods I was so completely trapped in a laurel stand that I finally got down on my belly and crawled, compass in hand, until I came out the other side. True story.

  • Reply
    May 24, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    My Mountain Laurel is just starting to bloom in my yard. I look forward to it each year. Some areas here have a lot of it and some have a sparse amount. I have little. I am hoping to get a time on the Blue Ridge Pkwy. this weekend as I hear the Rhododendron are starting to bloom and I just love and admire mother Nature’s display.

  • Reply
    May 24, 2013 at 10:42 am

    Boy, it’s nice and cool today! The
    perfect weather for me to finish
    planting my garden.
    Going up in my holler there are
    hells of Mountain Laural, so thick
    a rabbit would have trouble. But it
    makes a beautiful scenery to me
    with a road right thru the middle
    of it. I love ’em! Even if it is a
    constant battle, all those colors
    and smells are worth it. Later on
    red cucumber tree cones will be
    sticking out high above this
    The cute little girl in the photo
    above now provides us with a lot
    of Appalachian treats…Ken

    • Reply
      August 1, 2019 at 5:48 pm

      Where I grew up in Grayson County, Virginia, most of the locals (at least the ones I knew) called rhododendron “mountain laurel.” My dad would fashion dippers out of the leaves to drink spring water. He (and others) called laurel “mountain ivy.” We also picked tea berries, creasy greens, gooseberries, blueberries, morels, and various other things. Interesting that an “incorrect” name could catch on and that incorrect name become the common usage for people in a certain area.

  • Reply
    May 24, 2013 at 10:40 am

    We have Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron, and it took me a while to know the difference. I’ve never heard Laurel called Ivy though, not even by the locals…doesn’t mean they don’t call it that, I just haven’t heard it!

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    May 24, 2013 at 9:53 am

    I too have heard these to shrubs called Ivy & Laurel and will continue to call them this. There is another shrub we call Rhododendron which has a much fuller bloom than the Laurel. I guess it may be a sub-species.

  • Reply
    Rooney Floyd
    May 24, 2013 at 9:38 am

    We have “Kalmia” bushes which are a type of mountain laurel. They only grow on the few steep slopes we have in the sand country and are blooming beautifully right now. I used to live on Kalmia Hill.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    May 24, 2013 at 8:48 am

    Over here, we call the flower in the top picture Mountain Laurel and the one with the long leaves is Rhododendron. The property that we plan to build on is covered with both. It is nice because the blooms for each come in a few weeks apart, so it gives us several weeks of beautiful blooms. I especially like the waxy pink bloom of the Mountain Laurel.

  • Reply
    May 24, 2013 at 8:37 am

    you were so cute. the deer camp property has a “hell” of crepe myrtle on it. so this term was not new to me.
    have a great weekend

  • Reply
    Jane Bolden
    May 24, 2013 at 8:37 am

    So beautiful!! You were a lucky little girl. Cute picture, so sweet.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 24, 2013 at 7:50 am

    I am in total agreement with you as to the nomenclature of these two plants and to “the thicket” with those who would describe them differently.
    I remember when two men with a large truck came up on Wiggins Creek and ask if they could dig some laurel bushes. We had way more than plenty of them so we said “go ahead, just don’t dig any rododendrums(note the um in the spelling).” Well, they proceeded to fill up their truck bed with laurels. We watched to make sure they didn’t get any rhododendrums.
    So, now you are confused or think I am. No there is a third species involved. I don’t know what it is but the leaves look like the laurels (rhohodendron) but are the size of the ivy (laurel.) And the bloom looks the laurel (rhododendrum.) Most of them grew up on the hill above the chinquapins and were interspersed among the ivy (laurel) and pinxterbloom and flame azaleas that grew there.
    By the way, azaleas were called honeysuckles up on the Creek.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 24, 2013 at 7:49 am

    Tip, I have lots of both around my house. The ones in the first picture I call Laurel the ones in the second picture I call Rhododendron. There are streets near me called Rhododendron and Laurel….guess that’s cause there is plenty of both in this area.
    I call them what my family called them and don’t give much thought to what other folks call them.
    The Rhododendrons around my house have been slowly dying for several years now. I’m wondering if there will be any left.
    Yep, I’ve heard of Laurel Hell, both Laurel and Rhododendrons can get so thick they make a wall, earning that non-complementary name.

  • Reply
    May 24, 2013 at 7:41 am

    I don’t think I have any ivy around here, but wish I did. It is beautiful! I would love to visit The Breaks Interstate Park during the spring when the Mountain Laurels (Rhododendrons) are in bloom. They say it is breathtaking.
    Love your shawl!

  • Reply
    Ed Myers
    May 24, 2013 at 7:27 am

    I sure do, Tipper. There’s a bank right behind the house and one about 80 feet up the hill.
    A long time ago, I worked doing all kinds of improvement for the GSMNP for the Youth Conservation Corp., a Nixon era version of the CCC. One project involved re-routing the Appalachian Trail through a virgin Rhododendron “Hell”. It was. The wood stems were so rubbery and tough that you couldn’t use an axe, so you had to saw through them at ground level and pull them out. I’m talking stems with a 4-5 inch diameter, close set, so pulling them out and disposing of them was quite a bit of labor. Then there were the burls, or root balls, we had to dig out of the rock shale with pick-axes. They were so hard that our group leader was able to sell them to pipe makers (after we packed them out, of course).
    So, hell it was back then and hell it is today.

  • Reply
    May 24, 2013 at 7:19 am

    What self-respecting Appalachian born human doesn’t have at least one Rhododendron growing in the yard? Right now there is a huge one in all its splendor of blooms.
    I have not heard the term Mountain Ivy, but have seen many hillsides covered with what we called Mountain Laurel. Too early yet for me to tell the difference. I do know they all offer a wonderful habitat for birds around the year.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    May 24, 2013 at 7:13 am

    It is so beautiful, I love to see the ‘Laurel’ in bloom.

  • Reply
    Sam @ My Carolina Kitchen
    May 24, 2013 at 7:01 am

    We have rhododendrons everywhere and occasionally some Mountain Laurel. When we first moved to Martins Creek, we were told bears, which we’ve seen a couple, love to hide in rhododendrons because they are so dense.
    Before we moved here, I originally thought rhododendrons and Mountain Laurel were the same, but there is a big difference in the flower.
    Happy Memorial Day Tipper. Darling photo of you.

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