Appalachian Dialect Wildflowers & Trees Of Appalachia

The Mountain Ivy is Blooming

mountain ivy
Over the past week, the Ivy around my house has started to bloom. If Ivy makes you think of the green vine that often overtakes everything in it’s path then you may be wondering why in the world I think mine is blooming.

I’m talking about the bush like tree you see 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. Can you see the difference from the first photo? Notice the leaves are longer, thinner, and a brighter green. The blooms are different too. The real name for this one is Rhododendron.

To make things even more confusing Ivy and Laurel often grown side by side.

blooming ivy bush or blooming ivy tree


In places Ivy and Mountain Laurel grow so dense and thick that they are called hells. I’ve read accounts which claim the first men who surveyed the lines between NC and TN encountered Ivy and Laurel 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.

mountain laurel and mountain ivy

Tipper – Just after we moved into the house Pap built

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 its edges. The Ivy and 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.

Blind Pig reader, Bob Dalsemer, once shared a quote about Ivy from renowned ballad collector Cecil Sharp with me:

“… 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.”

In my mind Mountain Laurel will always be Ivy and Rhododendron will always be Laurel even if the names aren’t right.


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  • Reply
    gayle larson
    June 6, 2020 at 8:11 am

    No matter what you call them they are just plain beautiful. I don’t know when I ever saw them this full and lush.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    May 19, 2017 at 7:30 am

    Right now, the back of my house is almost lined with Ivy (Mountain Laurel). It is almost solid white-pink from one edge to th other except for the native Rhododendrons (Laurel?) that are mixed in that will bloom in a few weeks, after the Mountain Laurel flowers have gone for another year.
    I am especially fond of the delicate, waxy flowers of the Mountain Laurel.

  • Reply
    May 19, 2017 at 5:54 am

    We don’t have the Laurel around here close, but up on the Mountain you can find some and thick. Someone made a video of it on the Tube,
    I have actually climbed up out of a holler on top of it one time to keep from going the long way around, young and dumb, notice I said one time, never did that again.

  • Reply
    May 18, 2017 at 8:05 pm

    Very pretty, no matter what they’re called. LOL
    I remember us making “paths” and “rooms” through lilacs and sumac up north. We had to be covered with bug bites traveling through them, but ohhh, we had such fun.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    May 18, 2017 at 7:49 am

    If I was confused before, I really am now. It is all ivy to me! In college I read a poem about Rhododendrons that was so beautiful I asked my Dad what Rhododendrons were. He said “laurel.” So, I’ll just stick to what I know!
    The post reminds me of the song “Moutain Tyme.” I like the Glen Frey version: “oh, summer time has come…”

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 17, 2017 at 11:48 pm

    What we called rhododendrons were different that those people generally call rhododendrons. The leaves looked the same (glassy dark green looking top and a grayish green kind of matte color on the bottom) but were smaller. The plant was shorter with more of a compact shape. The blooms were white with a pink or purple accents.
    One day three men came up Wiggins Creek road with a truck and asked if they dig some laurels. We told them to go ahead, just don’t dig any of the rhododendrons. So they dug, balled and burlapped a truck load and showed us what they had. It was all laurels (white rhododendrons) and a few ivies. They offered to pay a pittance but we told them no, we were glad to get rid of them. That the rhododendrons and chinquapins had more room to grow.
    Not too much later, we noticed that most of our rhododendrons were gone too. Somebody had come, while nobody was home, and dug them all. I don’t know for sure that it was the same three guys but found out later that they had been taking advantage of other people in the vicinity the same way and were selling our plants at a nursery over in Waynesville.
    All three men were late middle aged at the time and I’m am sure they have gone to their just reward by now or are one step away. I wish I could be there to hear their reasoning for taking advantage of generous mountain people (trusting not gullible) who had given them something then coming back and stealing the rest. It don’t hurt when I think of what they took, it hurts that we have to live in a world with people like that.

  • Reply
    May 17, 2017 at 6:12 pm

    I’ve tried all day since just before 10 this morning to comment, but my mouse won’t work when I hit Post or Preview. Strangest thing I ever saw! It may not work this time either, but I’m gonna comment again.
    I call ’em hells too, cause my holler is full of ’em. And when it’s COLD, it looks like little green cigars, and they’re just waiting on daylight and the sunshine. When I was in school and littler, we had fiest dogs and they could hear the chickens acting up at night and they’d go to see what the commotion was. In just a minute they’d spot an old posseum and me, Harold, and John would have to put on our shoes and go shake that booger out. He never hit the ground! I never knew there so many posseums around but we got our share. …Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 17, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    B.Ruth’s mention of peonies reminded me of my mother’s Dallys. She dug her Dally taters in the fall and brought them in for the winter, then in the spring after the ground warmed up she planted them again. She kept them separated by colors in the garden and kept the taters separated in the house too, I think. She had Peonies too but she called them Peonie Roses. She grew a plethora of flowers in every crack, crevice, nook and cranny you can imagine.
    Ivies have sticky flowers. If you play amongst them much, you end up with them stuck all over you. It’s not a problem except you get a little bit of gummy stuff on your hands when you pick them off. But, if you have ever suckered, topped or primed tobacco you won’t pay it no mind.
    Speaking of flowers, tobacco has a beautiful flower. And so does okra.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    May 17, 2017 at 3:00 pm

    I was raised calling it Ivy and Laurel and there was another we called Rhododendron which had larger flowers than the Laurel. Being raised at Needmore I’ll still call it the same, if this offends anyone so be it.

  • Reply
    Lee Mears
    May 17, 2017 at 1:46 pm

    My folks usually called Rhododendron ‘Laurel’. We used to take a ride around parkway when it was all blooming and there was a small wild orange one in bloom is several places. It looked the same, I remember it as Rhododendron anyway. Good times for me to be with my Grandparents.
    I do wish we’d had the easy to carry, easy to use cameras then. Walking up the creeks running off Cold Mountain when everything was in bloom was so beautiful.
    Great photos here, Tipper.
    As far a biscuits and scones; try putting a cup of sausage gravy on a “scone”. They’re those glazed hard triangle things from Panera! The Queen can keep them far as I’m concerned.
    Not much on earth taste better than a tall southern buttered biscuit.
    It did seem my grands went out of the way to add or drop letters from words. !?
    Granny called her Confederate Jasmine vine ‘Cinnamon vine’ but I don’t think many people knew what it was. It sure made sitting on the porch at night a memorable experience.

  • Reply
    May 17, 2017 at 1:17 pm

    Both your mountain laurels are beautiful!!
    Our “mountain laurel” here in Texas perfumes the air with an almost over-powering grape gum smell each spring. It produces lovely droopy clusters of purple flowers which then produce mesquite-like bean pods which kids will shell out so they can rapidly rub the hard bean on a rock or other hard surface before throwing it at someone or sneaking upon another and pressing the bean against the victim’s skin. For some reason I have yet to research, the bean quickly becomes unusually hot feeling when rubbed in this manner so the victim touched or hit by the bean will intensely “feel the burn”.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 17, 2017 at 12:42 pm

    What I have never understood is why the correctivationists want to tell us we’ve named them wrong? If we live with them, we ought to get to call them what we want to. That’s like somebody telling you your girls are really named Clifford and Clyde (both of which can be girl names). I grew up calling Ivy-Ivy, Rhododendron-Rhododendron and Honeysuckle-Honeysuckle. When the pronunciation police came to make me change, I made a plea bargain with them, to wit, When I am at your place I’ll call them what you want me to and when you are at my place we’ll all call them what they really are.

  • Reply
    Janis Sullivan (Jan)
    May 17, 2017 at 12:38 pm

    My mom knew them all, and she called them like you do, Tipper. We lived in the Cumberland Mountains in Tenn.

  • Reply
    Melissa P (Misplaced Southerner)
    May 17, 2017 at 11:55 am

    Imagine my joy to find that I can actually grow rhododendron and cherry laurel up here in Michigan. Put in two rhodies this year. Laurel comes next. I can even find some of the glorious azaleas that I so miss from the mountains that will grow here. I “may” make it after all.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    May 17, 2017 at 11:22 am

    Thank goodness. I grew up saying ivy and laurel until learning the official laurel and rhododendron. Now I guess they have become stuck in my head but not so much as to forget the childhood names. I have two of each here that I planted but the ivy doesn’t bloom.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    May 17, 2017 at 11:09 am

    By whatever name–Ivy, Laurel, Mountain Laurel, Rhododendron–the plant is lovely in May and early June. It grew in profusion near my home in Choestoe, and I, like Tipper, sought to make a “playhouse” under its thick fronds. But alas! I started “breaking out” in a rash, and my mother determined that it was because my skin was coming in contact with the beautiful Ivy, and so I had to move my playhouse to the safety of the Pear Tree’s Shade in my yard at our house, instead of along the trail to the bubbling Sprint–the spring, incidentally, that my father “found” and “dug” with his shovel after using the peachtree limb as a “divining rod.” (I wrote that story of my Daddy finding the spring a few years ago on Blind Pig).
    Another spectacle of the quad-rupled named beautiful spring flower was our drives over Neal Gap (Mountain Road, Hwy 129/19) from Choestoe to Cleveland and/or Gainesville beyond every spring. The Mountain Laurel was profuse at the tops of the banks of that road, and always provided a beautiful spring panoply of beauty.
    Thank you for reminding us of the beauty all around us in Appalachia, and especially in spring when everything bursts forth with such intensity!

  • Reply
    May 17, 2017 at 10:55 am

    Oh, and I love the photo in your little maxi dress and shawl!

  • Reply
    May 17, 2017 at 10:52 am

    Well, thanks for clearing that up- clear as mud, that is. I’m pretty sure I have Rhododendron in my front flower bed. Or, I thought I did. I hope it will bloom and isn’t damaged by the drought like my dwarf azaleas.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    May 17, 2017 at 10:32 am

    Would you please ask sweet Cindy if she ever pondered whether Laurel, Ivy or Rhododendron is or was a bush or a shrub…just another conundrum!
    For instance…my Granny n’ Mother always said…”Butterfly Bush” has colors of purple, red or white!
    The fancy catalogs for instance, tend to say…”Butterfly Shrubs” are available in all the hybrid new colors” ??
    It seems that plants especially have different names but all the same…Forsythia or “Forsytheeee” as my granny said…Then of course “Yellow Bells” too…
    March Flowers and Daffodils
    My grannies favorite was…”Pinies or pineys” that we always called Peonies….which I remembered with a mnemonic device Pee-on-nees! Ha
    Flags….were early blue near wild iris or purple iris…
    Guess this could go on and on….
    I’m a’makin’ a list of all the bush, shrub and flower names I can think of and checkin’ it thrice…with some research from relatives!
    Thanks Tipper

  • Reply
    Dee Parks
    May 17, 2017 at 9:45 am

    That Ivy bush is gorgeous! I have seen the Mountain Laurel and I had a Rhododendron by our old house but I have never seen an Ivy. I remember being down South at my parents’ home in February, and I saw a bush blooming way down in the fence. I asked my Mother what it was and she said its a Hawthorn. (sp?) It had pink blossoms. My Mother was always warning me when I was down South to look out for a snake. I went with my head down and eyes glued to the ground. lol Your Ivy looks like a perfect place for those varmints to hang out. lol

  • Reply
    May 17, 2017 at 9:12 am

    A few years ago, my sister and her husband planned a trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway just to see the Mountain Laurels in bloom. Their trip was to take them into Ashville. I suggested we send a message to Tipper for advice on when would be a perfect time to travel and catch the flowers in full bloom. First of all, I thought The Blind Pig Gang lived close to Ashville. And secondly, I had never heard the flower called anything except Mountain Laurel. They were confused about the name of the flowers and their bloom times, so they went anyway. They didn’t see any blooms and stopped to ask someone why along the way. They heard them called different names just as you described. It seems they traveled about two weeks late but I’m sure the scenic drive on the parkway was worth the trip.

  • Reply
    May 17, 2017 at 8:46 am

    When the dogs were after a bear and he went into the laurel you could hear the boughs breaking for half a mile or more.

  • Reply
    Brian P. Blake
    May 17, 2017 at 8:05 am

    Beautiful, Tipper! Thanks for such a cheery “good morning”!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 17, 2017 at 7:28 am

    I have been sooo confused by these bush names. I would think I had it figured it out only to have someone come along and call them by a different name but I now have a solution they are all bushes with pink flowers! That’s it, that’s their name. Of course I’ve seen both varieties of bushes with pink flowers all my life. I’ve played in them and made tunnels in them. They are synonymous with the mountains.
    Mr Sharp was quite correct, mountain folks certainly have a habit of calling things by different names. Do you suppose it is part of their streak of independence?

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    May 17, 2017 at 7:20 am

    Yep folks….the word is “Tails”….as most were sat on!
    Some of those mountain tales (tails) were “tails” that got “shushed”, mashed, stretched n’ grew, or shrunk plum out of site with only a “nub” remaining!
    One distant word back in the corner of ones mind will jog a memory, and hopefully can lead to retelling the tale (tail) for what it’s worth!
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    May 17, 2017 at 7:01 am

    You just do not know how this post of yours today brought back the memories…
    My Dad commenting about… “One of the best dogs I ever had, got lost in the “Laurel Hells”! Finally, days after we’d been went hunting, that dog showed up near starved to death!” This is just one story! There’s an Uncle, on Daddy’s side that told of robbers hiding in the “Laurel Hells” that had robbed a store in Mars Hill. Some of the law went in after them, got lost and one never come out! Then there is the many “moonshine” tails, that only “a real man of the mountains” could negotiate thru the “Ivy n’ Laurel hell” and hide his “stump water still”! One Uncle sayin’ that… “Only water from a nearby stream that was trickling out of the mountain where “ivy and laurel” was thick and hellish would produce the best whiskey! Don’t ask me how he knew!
    My Aunt and Granny telling of little people living in the Ivy….! Probably used to scare us and keep us away from the craggy, snaky rocks and Laurel!
    My folks except for my teacher Aunts and Mother, always said “Ivy for Laurel” and “Laurel for Rhododendron”.
    However, she never said…for instance, that she taught at “Big Laurel” it was always over at Big Ivy…(Buncombe, NC) or was it over at “Little Laurel” which would be Little Ivy (Madison County, NC)! I never can remember for sure which “Ivy” was the one where she taught and lived for a spell! Ha
    My Granny did have a great Aunt nicknamed “Aunt Rhodie” but don’t know if she could have been a “Aunt Laurel” in disguise! Could have been “Aunt Ivy” all along!
    Thanks Tipper,
    Love this post…you done good….without getting confused as I do when I write of Laurel, Ivy, and Rhododendron. Another conundrum is one that is mostly truth, depending on the plant…Pink Honeysuckle n’ Pinkster or Rhododendron n’ purple honeysuckle! Ahgggg!

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