The Pennsylvania state flower is the Mountain Laurel. It is a member of the heath family, also known as Ericaceae. This family of plants contains many of the most common and well-known shrubs including huckleberries, blueberries, azaleas, cranberries and rhododendron. Found throughout the state, the Mountain Laurel attracts thousands of visitors each year from the surrounding regions.
For six years there were indecisive proposals to approve a state flower of Pennsylvania. Repeated attempts were made to recognize the tulip tree as the state’s flower because of the significant influence it has had upon the state over the centuries. Even the eastern hemlock was considered, but failed to gain popular support. Eventually two flowers were chosen, the pink azalea, or the mountain laurel. With supporters of both flowers adamantly vocal, the decision was then handed over to the state’s legislature to make a decision. Unable to choose amongst the two flowers, the House of Representatives passed two bills, one supporting each flower. Following suit, the state’s Senate was also unable to make a decision and passed to bills as well, leaving the outcome for the state’s governor to decide.
Governor Gifford Pinchot, an avid nature lover, was a supporter of the pink azalea. However, as a true gentleman of his time, he left the decision to be made by his wife Cornelia. She favored the more subtle of the two plants, the mountain laurel. So on
May 5, 1933, Governor Pinchot signed the bill into law and the official Pennsylvania State Flower became the Mountain Laurel.
Primarily the flower is in full bloom from late May till mid-June when its pink and white flowers are scattered throughout the Pennsylvanian woodlands. The Pennsylvania State Flower is also known to grow alongside the rocky hilltop terrain on the eastern half of the state where locals used it extensively as an ornamental shrubbery. As a shrub, the Mountain Laurel can grow to be four to ten feet in height at full maturity, although some specimens have been recorded to grow as high as 40 feet tall. These species are found in some warmer, southern states in the United States. The Pennsylvania State Flower requires a cool and moist environment in order to grow. The soil must be well-drained in order to provide a suitable habitat for the shrub. Although direct sunlight is optimum for the growth of the plant’s flowers, the Mountain Laurel will continue to grow in partial or full shade conditions.
There are also two close relatives of Kalmia latifolia, the Mountain laurel, which are also native to Pennsylvania. The first is called the Sheep laurel, Kalmia angustifolia and the other is known as the Bog laurel, Kalmia polifolia. Sheep laurel blooms in the summer months from June to July. They are primarily found in forests of the eastern side of the State. Bog laurel, on the other hand, is a rare species found in the northeastern corner of the state of Pennsylvania. It is found in more of abundance throughout New England, New York, and across Canada.