Mountain laurels bloom every June in New England, but unless you are paying attention, you might miss the display. It doesn’t last very long. We saw loads of mountain laurel buds recently on a visit to New Hampshire, so I figured the Blackstone Gorge in Blackstone, MA might have some blooms to enjoy. I also checked in with a friend from the Blackstone Heritage Corridor, who confirmed that a trip to the Gorge to see blooming mountain laurel would be worthwhile (as though I needed an excuse!)
And yes, mountain laurel blooms awaited when I headed out early in the morning, some flowers fully opened, while others are still intriguing buds, almost geometric in their shape. The foliage in the gorge is growing thick, and most of the mountain laurel flowers were at the top of branches, reaching for sunlight. I found a few cooperative displays that were easy to reach for taking photos, and other branches bearing blossoms over my head willingly flexed under my gentle coaxing to allow me better views of the delicate blooms.
I went seeking mountain laurel, but as I wandered the area quite close to the trail head of the Gorge, the streamside bluets caught my eye. It’s been a good year for bluets. You may see large swathes of white against green grass on the medians along the highway. From a distance they appear to be tiny white flowers, but upon much closer examination, the blue tinge of their petals is revealed.
I ventured out early to visit the Gorge, and while I saw two other cars in the lot that is just off County Street in Blackstone, these other visitors were long gone before I started my flower tour. And thus I enjoyed the mountain laurel in quiet solitude, the cool breeze from the fast flowing river helping discourage hungry mosquitos, although a few managed to get in a few bites when I was focused on flowers.
Nestled next to a spray of mountain laurel was a cluster of oak galls. These fragile balls dangle from oaks, and are the tree’s response to the irritant of eggs laid by certain wasps.
Many blossoms of the mountain laurel remain to open, so there is still time to get over to enjoy a visit along the Blackstone River.
This is a great place in every season, although it is on the far end of my scale for Easy Walks. The multiple stones in the trail, fairly steep slopes climbing up from the river, and roots washed out from the high water that rushes through the Gorge each spring make this a place where you really must watch your step.
But the rewards… The rewards are great in this narrow slice of nature along the river. If you miss the mountain laurel, there will be other changes to enjoy throughout the year whenever you’re able to make the time. Happy trails!
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, and editor of Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed. Just out is her latest book, Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. She has been a freelance writer for numerous local, regional, and national publications for the past 20+ years, has helped numerous families to save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress. She is a co-author of the recent community history, Bellingham Now and Then.