The 1917 Laurel Law to Protect Connecticut’s State Flower

Connecticut’s State Flower is the Mountain Laurel, now blooming across the state.  This evergreen shrub that blooms with white or pink flowers in late spring became the state flower in 1907.  

 

At the time, the General Assembly greeted the proposal with amusement and a lack of enthusiasm, one senator remarking, “I see no point in cluttering up the statute books with such useless matter.” Another senator informed the body that 3,000 women had signed a petition in support of the mountain laurel being recognized by the state flower. He elicited a laugh from those assembled by quipping, “If 3,000 women can agree on something, I say it is wise to agree with them.” 

 

Despite the lack of seriousness with which the importance of the Mountain Laurel was marked in the General Statutes, ten years later the General Assembly found it necessary to provide it with special protection.

 

In the early twentieth century, mountain laurel was in great demand for decorative purposes.  It was a popular at Christmastime, when it was made into chains, wreaths, and clusters.  According to a 1923 pamphlet written by the Secretary of the Connecticut Forestry Association, firms that sold mountain laurel would dispatch gangs of men throughout the flower’s growing region to collect it.  These groups were said to occasionally overcome property owners who tried to eject them from their land, break down fences, cut trees, and set fires.

 

The collection of mountain laurel in Connecticut reached such a state that there was popular support for legal protection for the plant.  Hence the General Assembly passed the Laurel Law in 1917. This law prohibited the removal of the plant from private property for commercial purposes without the permission of the land owner and the town.  To encourage reporting of this crime, half of the $50 fine would go to the person who turned in the laurel-stealer.

 

There are several reports of prosecution under this law. In 1922, two men were caught stripping mountain laurel from a private estate near Haddam and sending it in bales to New York for sales; they were fined $15. In 1927, the New York Times reported that a resident of Darien had been summoned to court on the charge of picking the flower on the property on the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company.

 

In 1958, the Hartford Courant told the story of a Massachusetts resident was arrested when he was found traveling on the Wilbur Cross Parkway with three tons of mountain laurel and no proof of ownership.  When the case turned up on the East Hartford Town Court’s docket, it was regarded as an oddity, with no recollection of a similar case ever on the docket.

 

The Laurel Law was in effect until 1969, when it was repealed as part of Connecticut’s reform of its criminal laws.

 

Sources:

Faces Fine for Picking Connecticut’s Flower: Woman is Called to Court for Gathering Laurel, the State’s Emblem, New York Times, Oct. 29, 1927, p. 4.

Fined for Theft of Mountain Laurel, Hartford Courant, Feb. 1, 1921, p. 7.

Thomas F. Walsh, East Hartford Court Confronted With Oddity; Mountain Laurel Case, Hartford Courant, Aug. 16, 1958, p. 8

Fred B. Manchee. Official Flower’s Early Roots, Hartford Courant, May 31, 1976, p. 15.

P.L. Buttrick, Connecticut’s State Flower: The Mountain Laurel (1924). Catalog record.

 

Image: “Our State Flowers: The Floral Emblems Chosen by the Commonwealths”, National Geographic Magazine, XXXI (June 1917), p. 503, via Wikimedia Commons.