As I was examining my photos from my last hike, I became puzzled as my brain produced two names for the flowering plant I had seen. Was it a Mountain Laurel or a Rhododendron? So I began exploring the interweb. Turns out, they have a lot in common and do resemble each other which explains my confusion. The most obvious differences are:
- Leaves. Mt. Laurels have smaller, more delicate leaves. Rhododendron leaves are larger and have a waxy, leathery feel to them.
- Flowers. Mt. Laurels have five-pointed white flowers with some pink highlights and look like tiny bowls. Rhododendron flowers come in many different colors (pink, red, white, etc) and have distinct petals in each flower.
- Bark. Mt. Laurels have ribbed bark that peels. Rhododendron bark is fairly smooth.
I borrowed this fantastic picture showing the differences from here.