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whatsthis8-550x380Nope, it’s not mutant cotton candy (sorry, Sara). But What’s This? No. 8, from Vermont today (May 27), is fairly easy compared to most of the other What’s This? challenges. Name it and win $5 off any of my outings or workshops. We already have a winner …

May 28, 2013: The naturalist and artist Susan Sawyer of South Woodbury, Vermont, finally decided to win one. She correctly identified this as the flower of a Bog Laurel (Kalmia polifolia), also called Pale Laurel. They were just opening along the boardwalk at Peacham Bog in Groton State Forest on Monday. It is rare when Susan doesn’t know the answer to a What’s This? (She’s been kind enough to let others win.)

A number of folks identified this as the flower of Sheep Laurel (Kalmia angustifolia). It’s a worthy answer. But as you’ll see in the photo above, my hint was in the leaves — slender and opposite. Sheep Laurel leaves are narrowly oval-shaped. The other trick here is that this flower doesn’t yet have its classic Kalmia demeanor. (I suspect that an insect might have opened this flower.) But it’s nonetheless locked and loaded.

Explosive flowers are among the characteristics of Kalmias, which are members of the Heath family (Ericaceae). Their petals are fused into a bowl whose surface has ten pocket-like indentations (showing in an early form around the perimeter of these flowers). Locked into these pockets are stamens, including their pollen-bearing anthers (the stamens at 11 and one-o’clock have escaped). Even when the flower opens completely, the anthers are poised and tense for action. When a bumblebee or other insects visits, it triggers the stamens to snap out and release a shower of pollen. (Note in the comments below that recent winner Sue Cloutier hinted at the answer.) Inquisitive humans can also trigger the shower. Below you’ll see my full image of this early bloom and then an open flower ready for action (with its pistil, um, er, at attention).

Bog Laurel (Kalmia polifolia) / © Bryan Pfeiffer

Bog Laurel (Kalmia polifolia) / © Bryan Pfeiffer


Bog Laurel (Kalmia polifolia)

  1. Sara Backer says:

    Shh! Be careful what you say. These are the latest listening devices for FBI Barbie.

  2. Judy Brook says:

    kalmia polifloria or bog laurel

  3. Joan says:

    Bog laurel, unopened? First noticed these a couple of weeks ago in a bog near my home in Maine.

  4. goodnature says:

    Kalmia polifolia, Bog Laurel says Susan Sawyer

  5. Sue Cloutier says:

    Pop you magic pollen, flower!

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