FLOWER: While the local Mountain Laurels in the Allegheny National Forest and other forested areas put on a beautiful show earlier this summer, the lovely state flower can also pack a poisonous punch.
That’s the word from information found online on the flowering bush botanically referred to as kalmia latifolia, or colloquially as the calico-bush or spoonwood.
The broad-leaved evergreen shrub is of the heather family and is native to eastern United States with its range stretching from southern Maine south to northern Florida, and west to Indiana and Louisiana. It is not only the state flower of Pennsylvania, but also of Connecticut.
The flowers on the plant are round, ranging from light pink to white and occur in clusters that bloom in May and June on rocky slopes and mountainous forest areas.
But here’s the kicker — all parts of the plant are poisonous!
Who would have guessed these beautiful plants, so admired in the area and across a wide multi-state region, could present such a danger? But they do.
All parts of the plant are toxic, if ingested. Specifically, the plant is poisonous to several animals, including horses, goats, cattle, deer, monkeys and humans due to grayanotoxin and arbutin. Additionally, the green parts of the plant, flowers, twigs and pollen are all toxic, including food products made from them. This includes toxic honey that may produce neurotoxic and gastrointestinal symptoms in humans eating more than a modest amount.
While this information is sobering, it probably won’t deter area residents from taking their annual drives to the national forest on beautiful days to catch sight of the magnificent white and pink bushes. The vision could be compared to another local spectacle that could also present danger: the gorgeous, black bears sometimes seen lumbering across a hillside, field or road.