Lessons from the Mountain Laurel

By Dr. Chad Chaddick, Pastor of FBC, San Marcos

Many members of First Baptist Church know that I dabble in gardening. I’m no expert, by any account, but I enjoy cultivating a few flowers and a few vegetables throughout the year. One of the plants I have come to really enjoy and appreciate is the Mountain Laurel. I have since learned that back in 1907, the mountain laurel inspired the daughter of Academy founder Dr. J.M. Carroll to select green and purple as the school colors. In fact, “Green and purple of the laurel” are the opening lines in the SMA Alma Mater.

While familiar to Central Texans, the laurel was a new species of plant for me when my family and I moved to San Antonio several years ago. There were two younger ones growing beside my house and a couple of older ones growing on the church property. I loved the shiny green leaves and the masses of purple flowers. They were hardy. They were drought resistant. They were evergreen. I thought they were great.

A blooming mountain laurel on the campus of San Marcos Academy.

My appreciation for the Mountain Laurel only grew when we moved to San Marcos. In our new home one horticultural virtue came to take on great significance: deer resistance. The deer that pass through our yard eat everything! But while the young ones occasionally sample a bite or two of the Mountain Laurel, no one is coming back for seconds.

So I found the Mountain Laurel to be a drought and deer-resistant plant that looks nice and produces flowers that smell like grape Kool-Aid! What is not to like?

laurel seeds: hard as rocks

I liked them enough that I wanted more of them around the house. A couple friends at church told me they had taken handfuls of the seeds and simply thrown them out in their yard, and now, many years later, they had lots of them. This sounded simple enough, especially since the seeds are so large and easy to gather – large, bright-red seeds the size of raisins but hard as rocks. Our first year in the house, I collected a few handfuls of seeds and tossed them into the yard.

And nothing happened.

Mountain Laurel seeds are about the size of a dime.

I read a bit online and found that the seeds germinate best if they are scarred. I collected another handful of seeds and set about scarifying them. They are remarkably tough, but with a razor blade and some patience, I scratched some lines on each side of my seeds. I then wrapped them in a wet paper towel and let them sit on the kitchen counter for a day. When I unwrapped them, the water was already doing its work! Many of the seeds had soaked up some of that water and were slightly misshapen.

I planted the seeds in some pots and set them in the back flower bed. In a couple of days, the seeds were sprouting. Up jumped a little Mountain Laurel. They quickly sprouted to about three inches high with about six leaves each.

And they stayed about three inches high with six leaves.

And they continued to stay about three inches high.

And while some of them crept up to six inches high, by the end of the year, I did not have much to show for my nurture.

Laurel Plants: Deep Roots

But then I went to replant them in fresh soil. While some of the plants were only three or four inches high, they had a root system that filled the pot and had worked its way out of the drain holes in the bottom. One pot was firmly rooted in place with a root stretching nearly a foot into the soil beneath the pot!

Mountain Laurel plant at three weeks.

Here was the secret to the Mountain Laurel’s hardiness – a deep root system. It could survive drought and deer and my clumsy gardening because it was firmly and deeply rooted in the soil.

I planted those little Mountain Laurel plants in the yard, and slowly they have grown. Sometimes it seems like nothing is happening, and then, overnight it seems, they will add six inches of growth. The small ones will sometimes double in size with a quick burst.

The Laurel: An Illustration of the Church

As I thought of my efforts with these Mountain Laurels, I saw in them a good illustration of the Church. The Church had relatively small and humble beginnings. Eleven apostles and perhaps no more than five hundred original witnesses to the resurrected Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:6). And that little group faced hardship and adversity. We might say they were “scarified.” But nourished on the waters of baptism and wrapped in the presence of the Holy Spirit, they took deep root – rooted not in the soil of the earth, but in the good, rich, life-giving soil of God. Rooted deeply, the Church began to grow. And sometimes, for months and years, nothing much seemed to happen. And then, almost overnight, the Church would burst forth with new growth. It began to flower, sending out a sweet aroma of salvation. And it began to drop seeds, scattering them out over the face of the earth, so that now a whole forest of faithfulness has appeared in all the earth. But the secret to the Church’s success is not found in its outward attractiveness. It is found in the root. It is the root that has enabled the church to be persecution-resistant and even pandemic-resistant. It is from the root that the enduring life flows.

And every time I look at a Mountain Laurel now, I remember that life and beauty flow from the root.

Green and Purple of the Laurel . . . a phrase Academy alumni and students know well.
About the Author

Dr. Chad Chaddick joined the staff at First Baptist Church in San Marcos in May 2015.  He previously served as pastor of Northeast Baptist Church in San Antonio. He holds a Master’s Degree from George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas, and a Doctorate from Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, AL. He has served on staff in churches in Texas and Georgia, and he has partnered with churches in numerous states and overseas. In addition to his work at the church, he serves as an occasional Adjunct Professor for Wayland Baptist University and Logsdon Seminary and is a frequent speaker at Academy chapels and events. He and his wife, Marci, have one daughter, Mia, and his family keeps him busy when he is not involved in the work of the church. Snow skiing and fly fishing in New Mexico and Colorado are favorite vacation pastimes. A little vegetable garden, story-telling to Mia, and watching BBC mysteries with Marci round out the usual daily activities.

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