May 29, 2012 |

Photo by Vicky Terry, from her home near Mingo.

During May and early June, the state flower of West Virginia bursts forth with exuberant zeal throughout the forests near US 219. Also known as “Big Laurel”, these clustered flowers of pink, white and purple are an early bloom throughout the lush Allegheny Highlands. Rhododendrons have thick, rubbery evergreen leaves, and in some places can reach about 10 feet, creating Laurel canopies along the trails of many state parks and National Forest areas of Tucker, Randolph and Pocahontas Counties. Rhododendrons grow most notably throughout Tucker County near Blackwater Falls, and the massive plants were written about in a famous book about the region by Phillip Pendleton Kennedy:

“The local valley has been celebrated in the Blackwater Chronicle of Phillip Pendleton Kennedy, illustrated by General David Hunter Strother, who wrote under the pen name of Porte Crayon. Strother, on his exploration of this region in the 1850s, described it as ‘so savage and inaccessible that it has rarely been penetrated, even by the most adventurous. The settlers on its borders speak of it with a sort of dread, and regard it as an ill-omened region, filled with bears, panthers, impassable laurel brakes, and dangerous precipices.’ Laurel grew so thick that one could walk on it as a carpet. Not until a forest fire in 1865 cleared out the tangled growth did the settlement of this fertile valley begin.” -West Virginia Writers’ Project, 1941.

Other types of Rhododendrons, like the white Mountain Laurel below, or pink and orange Azaleas, also grow in great numbers throughout these  Appalachian rainforests, swelling with life, and living.

source: Fenn, Christine D. “Rhododendron.” e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 22 October 2010. Web.

Mountain Laurel, photo by Zack Swick

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Category: Marlinton to Lewisburg

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