Sunday, July 19, 2009

Rhododendron or Laurel?

As mentioned in my July 12th posting I have recently been re-learning something that I knew first hand at one point in my woodcarving life a couple of decades ago. What I'm taking about is understanding the difference between two of my favorite carving woods found in abundance in the acidic mountain soils of the southern Appalachians. That would be rhododendron and mountain laurel. Both species are part of the Ericaceae family so perhaps that explains some of my confusion over the years.
RhododendronImage by Gertrud K. via Flickr

One of my fondest memories of hiking the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine was a place in Grayson Highlands State Park in southwest Virginia appropriately called Rhododendron Pass. As the photo on the right so brilliantly shows how an entire mountain side can come ablaze with this magnificent flowering plant. The flowering only lasts a few weeks in the spring so you have to be there at the right time.

Just recently while on a hike at Stone Mountain State Park in northwest North Carolina a friend was generous enough to remind me of the difference between these two magnificent plants. As you can see best from the picture that I posted on the top of this article, rhododendron has a much smoother bark and longer, thicker, and a deeper green color than does the mountain laurel. The mountain laurel in my area has a more 'flakey' bark and tends to be dwarfed by the usually larger rhododendron plants.

In the past I'm sure that I unfortunately mis-stated my some of my carvings by refering to the wood as laurel when they were really rhododendron. I'm glad now that I've taken the time to re-learn the differences because they are obvious when given a little study time.

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