Collected on June 9, 1959, this specimen was found in the woods in Somerset County by Leroy Henry, a past curator of botany at the museum. Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is the state flower of Pennsylvania. It is a broadleaved evergreen shrub native across the eastern United States, especially in forests of mountainous areas. This specimen was collected not too far from the highest point in Pennsylvania and the Maryland border. It is often mistaken for rhododendron because rhododendron
and mountain laurel are found in similar habitats and belong to the heath family (Ericaceae). Despite its beauty, mountain laurel has a dark side—all parts contain toxins that are poisonous to humans, pets, horses, and cattle.
Ingesting this plant can cause vomiting, diarrhea, impaired vision, convulsion, cardiovascular distress, and death. Honey made by bees from mountain laurel can also cause medical problems to humans. Benjamin Smith Barton (an American botanist in the late 1700s) wrote that in the autumn and winter of the year 1790, many people died in Pennsylvania from the effects of wild
honey, collected from Kalmia plants.
Botanists at Carnegie Museum of Natural History share pieces of the herbarium’s historical hidden collection on the dates they were discovered or collected. Check back for more!