The plant is naturally found on rocky slopes and mountainous forest areas. It thrives in acid soil, preferring a soil pH in the 4.5 to 5.5 range. The plant often grows in large thickets, covering great areas of forest floor. In the Appalachians, it can become a tree but is a shrub farther north. The species is a frequent component of oak-heath forests. In low, wet areas it grows densely, but in dry uplands has a more sparse form. In the southern Appalachians, laurel thickets are referred to as “laurel hells” because it is nearly impossible to pass through one.