Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Wicky, Wocky, Wood Laurel

It's amazing the number of names a plant will garner over the ages.
Take the mountain laurel, for example.
According to Sue Eland, author of an online plant biography about the kalmia latifolia, http://www.plantlives.com/docs/K/Kalmia_latifolia.pdf,
people identify the kalmia varieties
by a number of ordinary and not so ordinary names:

broad-leafed laurel,
little laurel,
American laurel,
wood laurel.

because the Cherokee were said to use the wood to make eating utensils and tools.
lambkill or sheepbane
because the plant is poisonous to animals.
Then there are those who make a connection to ivy:
ivy leaf laurel,
ivy wood,
ivy bush,
mountain ivy.

But my two favorites from Eland's list and the most colorful names of all:
wicky and wocky.
I'm not sure of the etymology for these two names.
It's possible they are derivations of Native American terms.

Wicky is sometimes called white wicky (kalmia cuneata).
White wicky grows south of the Shire in North Carolina.
The type we have scattered under the pines and oaks in our little patch of woods
is kalmia latifolia. We call it mountain laurel or laurel.
The flowers are beautiful when they appear in May, and
I like the way the older branches twist and turn.
Their ruggedness contrasts nicely
with the delicate white of the flowers.

Several years ago, our woods were thick with mountain laurel,
 but a severe drought killed a lot of them.
This year we are seeing more of them, so that's a good sign.
They are a tenacious plant.

Maybe they endure because the wood of the mountain laurel is very hard and strong.
According to an article by Gene Galbraith cited in wikipedia.org,
wood from kalmia latifolia was strong enough to be used
by 19th-century American clock makers
for making internal clock works.
Gives new meaning to the phrase "it's mountain laurel time."

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