Sheep Laurel

Sheep_Laurel_jpgThis family (Ericaceae) commonly called the Heath family consists of 103 genera and 3,350 species of shrubs, lianas, and small trees; found in temperate, cool and subtropical regions and in tropical mountains.  Twenty-five to 35 species are native to the United States.  Members of this family are of great horticultural and gastronomic interest, including Rhododendron, Azaleas, Heathers and Cranberries, Blueberries and Bilberries.  The family name “Heath” is from the Greek eike,and the Latin Erica. The genus Kalmia means “of Kalm” and is named for Peter Kalm (1716-1779), a well known Swedish botanist who collected plants in America.  The species augustifolia means “narrow-leaved”.  There are six species of Kalmia in North America and four of these are found in the USA. In 17th century New England it was observed that the berries of this plant kill cattle that feed upon it, especially the calves.  All the Kalmias and many Rhododendrons are poisonous to stock.  Livestock generally avoid the tough leaves but will eat them in winter or early spring when there is nothing else to eat. Another one of this genus, Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia), is important to wildlife.  Upland gamebirds and hoofed browsers feed on the foliage, buds and twigs.  The plant is important for winter cover.  Mountain Laurel is used as an ornamental shrub.


Lambkill, Calf-kill, Pig-laurel, Sheep-poison


Kalmia augustifolia






Perennial ~ Woody evergreen shrub


to 3 feet


Late August to October


Statewide in New Jersey, mostly in bogs and swamps


Late May to late June


Branching shrub ~ Leaves firm, opposite, oblong, dull to bluish-green, smooth ~ Flowers several on short stem or umbrella like arrangement, dark reddish-purple, lobed