Miniature Mountain Laurel

PLANT NOTEBOOK

May 18, 1991|By Amalie Adler Ascher

Botanical name: Kalmia latifolia

Pronunciation: Kal-me-a

Family: Ericaceae (Heath)

Origin: Maine to Alabama

Class: Shrub

Display period: late May, early June

Height: 3 feet

Environment: Dappled sunlight

Mountain laurel is called by many "the most beautiful flowering shrub in North America," yet finding it in home landscapes was a rarity indeed. The problem is the plant is difficult to propagate, which put a damper on efforts to try to produce stock and breed new varieties.

But the advent of tissue culture changed things and brought about the creation of miniatures as well. The first dwarf -- Elf, a hybrid derivative of the species, Kalmia latifolia -- was introduced in 1982. Miniature versions retain the laurel's characteristically gorgeous blossoms, and bear them in an ever-widening color range, some types incorporating an unusual banding of the petals as well.

Miniatures are slow-growers, reaching only 30 inches in 10 years. Therefore, they're suited to container culture, mixed border display and foundation planting. All kalmias, regardless of size, require an acid, well-drained soil. Watered well in the first year of planting, they tolerate drought fairly well from then on.

The breeder of Elf and leading force in the development of miniature kalmia hybrids is Dr. Richard A. Jaynes. His "Kalmia, The Laurel Book II," (Timber Press, $29.95) is called "the only complete and authoritative reference on the genus."

Dr. Jaynes bred Elf from descendants of a rare find in the wild of a dwarf mountain laurel in 1840. The new hybrid was produced from seed obtained by caging bees with selected plants to pollinate them.

For a mail order list of Dr. Jaynes's offerings, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to him at Broken Arrow Nursery, 13 Broken Arrow Road, Hamden, Conn. 06518.

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