This is for the Civil War gardeners among us, especially those from the Northeast.
I have been baffled by Southern references to laurel in various battle books. In accounts of Rich Mountain, McClellan is told by a local guide that the laurel is so thick and tangled on the hillside that a man can walk on top of it. This is an impossible outcome for the plant I call laurel.
It turns out, according to one author, that the locals are referring to rhododendron.
How do we get from a nice word like "laurel" to a monstrosity like "rhododendron"? No one starting in the rhododendron-choked Jersey pine barrens going northwards calls the plant "laurel." It's a better word, but I have never heard it used this way in NJ, NY or MA.
The more websites I view on the subject, the more confused I become.
But is seems we are talking about different things after all. Here's a botanist talking about "mountain laurel and rhododendron." He refers to the Smoky Mountains: "Rosebay rhododendron is generally absent above 5,000 feet, while mountain laurel persists as a component up to 6,000 feet."
He refers also to something called a "laurel hell." Sounds familiar.