If you've always been wowed by azaleas, which feature in Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening, here are some fun facts.
Azaleas, members of the genus Rhodondendron, can be found all around the world. There are deciduous azaleas with origins in North America; evergreen varieties from Japan, Korea, China, and Taiwan, and a whole host of hybrid crosses from some of these same countries. The Royal Horticultural Society, based in London, has an International Rhododendron Registry that lists over 800 species of azaleas.
There are 17 azaleas native to North America. R. vaseyi (the R stands for Rhododendron), which has pink to white flowers, can be found mostly in four mountainous North Carolina counties. R. canadense was described by famed botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1762 as a low shrub, and is found in swamps and along the banks of streams from Canada down to Pennsylvania. R. flammeum is orange to deep red, and is tolerant of heat in the Piedmont region of South Carolina and Georgia.
The white to pale pink R. viscosum has the distinction of being the first North American azalea to be grown in England in the late seventeenth century, with seed collected by English missionary John Bannister. In North America, it stretches from Maine to Florida, and to Texas.
The Azalea Society of America lists a seemingly infinite variety of azaleas in various colors. There's the light-pink Allure; the reddish Kin-no-sai, whose petals are more widely spread out than the average azalea; the Leonore, which is a sharp fuchsia color; and Rivermist in faded violet.
Scrolling through these different azaleas, one wonders about the inspiration for some of their names. There is Rose Elf, Rose Souffle, Pot of Gold, Dreamboat, Dreamsicle, Galaxy, and many named after presidents including President Cleveland, President Roosevelt (whether Theodore or FDR, it doesn't say), and "Pres. F.D. Roosevelt." The names are almost as fascinating as the azaleas themselves.
Pictures of azalea varieties from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
This article was originally published in April 2014, and has been updated for the
February 2015 paperback release.
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