May 5, 2023
Showstopping mountain laurel is blooming at Lake Lawson/Lake Smith Natural Area

By Mary Reid Barrow

A couple of weeks ago, mountain laurel was in the first act of its beautiful spring show at Lake Lawson/Lake Smith Natural Area.

Mountain laurel, truly a showstopper, is a native, though rarely seen in this area.

When I went to visit, there were some blooms and lots of buds on a huge stand of the shrubs that grows on a slope off the southern trail loop at the natural area.

Now, I’m just waiting for act three, when the flowers burst into their grand finale.   But the curtain time is iffy.

Three years ago, I visited and wrote about mountain laurel toward the end of May.  Then the white cup-shaped blossoms with pink spots covered that slope to the water.  They took your breath away.  Because of our warm spring, though  I wonder if the curtain will go up earlier this year.

That day, I felt lucky also to see little spikey white galax blooms along the forest floor.  Galax often grows in tandem with mountain laurel!

Mountain laurel is in the blueberry, rhododendron, and azalea family.  Sometimes it is called calico bush, because the flower colors are reminiscent of old fashioned calico aprons. In the old days, wood from these 12 to 20 feet shrubs was used to make tool handles, and knots were used to make briar tobacco pipes.

These glorious shrubs, in whatever act of their show, are not to be missed.  I don’t think there is any other public spot in Virginia Beach where you can see mountain laurel growing in the wild.  Though, I hear they once grew naturally in Little Neck, the closest place you are apt see them now in the wild is Charlottesville.

According to the Digital Atlas of the Virginia Flora, mountain laurel is known in every county in the state but is infrequent all over the coastal plain.

Even if our warm spring with intermittent chilly days keeps this beauty from blooming in full, the final act of the 2023 mountain laurel show is still a show worth seeing.

And the price of admission is free right at Lake Lawson/Lake Smith Natural Area off Northampton Boulevard.

See this video on mountain laurel created by Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation:


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