Mountain Laurel or Rhododendron?

Subscribe to A Day in the Smokies!Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron are often confused with one another.  They do both grow in abundance here in our Smoky Mountains, and they often grow together.  They also look especially similar when they are not in bloom, with their long, dark green leaves.  The main differences between them are the time they bloom, and the blooms themselves.

Mountain LaurelMountain Laurel

Mountain Laurel has pink and white flowers that bloom from May through early June!  The bloom of the mountain laurel is a little more saucer-shaped than the bloom of the rhododendron. One of the best places to find mountain laurel in the Park is on the Laurel Falls Trail!  This trail is named after this flowering shrub that is so prevalent along its path.  “The trail is 2.6 miles roundtrip and considered moderate in difficulty.  The trail is paved and is suitable for strollers.”  This trail is great for beginners! I have done the hike myself, and I am completely out of shape!  Just take frequent pauses to rest, and make sure to drink plenty of water and have a snack or two throughout the course of your hike!

Rosebay RhododendronRhododendron

There are two main types of rhododendron that grow in our Smoky Mountains.  “Rosebay rhododendron is the most common rhododendron in the Smokies.  It thrives around streams and in ravines at elevations below 5,000 feet.  Rosebay’s big clumps of whitish flowers appear in June at lower elevations and from July into August at middle altitudes.  Not every rosebay rhododendron in the park blooms every year.  “Big blooms,” when a higher percentage of the shrubs bear flowers, occur every 2-4 years.  No one has yet figured out when big blooms will happen, or why.  Even during off years, however, many rosebays will bloom throughout the Park, especially those along roadsides that receive more direct sunlight.

Catawba Rhododendron“Catawba is the rhododendron of the Smokies’ high mountains.  It is found only at elevations greater than 3,500 feet in the Park, often alongside other rhododendrons as part of tree-less shrublands call heath balds.  Catawba’s leaves are thick, shiny, and evergreen, much like those of rosebay rhododendron.  However, Catawba leaves are not as long and have a more rounded shape.  The beauty of Catawba rhododendron’s purple flowers is legendary.  From a distance it appears as if rhododendron-covered ridges have been painted with a purple wash. Catawba usually reaches its peak of bloom along the Newfound Gap Road in the first half of June.  Along the highest peaks it flowers in late June. Good places to see it are: above the Chimney Tops Trailhead, Alum Cave Trail, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Andrews Bald.”

ERA In The SmokiesThis blog is sponsored by ERA In The Smokies Realty and Rentals located at 207 Parkway in Gatlinburg. For more info. on a Gatlinburg Cabin for your Smoky Mountain Vacation or all the reasons to move to the Smokies, call 1-800-309-0277. ERA In The Smokies is a leader in chalet and Log Cabin Rentals and Real Estate Sales in the Gatlinburg area.

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2 thoughts on “Mountain Laurel or Rhododendron?

  1. Thanks for the clarification! I live on the Virginia side of Appalachia and am familiar with rhododendrons, but don’t see as much of mountain laurel even though it’s native in these parts. When I was looking up mtn. laurel, a few sources cited pictures of rhododendrons as mountain laurel- even with the blooms showing. I was beginning to second-guess myself.

    Spent just a little time in the Smokies for vacation, and can’t wait to go back. It’s beautiful, and everyone we met was real friendly. :-)

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