April 29, 2022
Flame azaleas (Rhododendron calendulaceum) are setting the woods around my house ablaze with breathtaking color. This year they seem to be more abundant than usual. This shrub, native to the eastern US, has a wide range, from southern New York and Pennsylvania, south through the Appalachians into northern Georgia. The plant was first collected in 1795 by A. Michaux from western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, perhaps from a location near my home.
The fiery color of the blooms has reportedly been mistaken for actual flames when the shrubs are abundant on a hillside, but that’s not what inspired the common name. Instead, some folks think the buds (just before they open) look like candle flames.
The flame azalea grows from six to twelve feet tall. According to wildflower.org, “This beautiful southern Azalea forms striking displays on some of the grassy balds of the southern Appalachians. A wide variation of color forms occurs, from all shades of yellow to orange-yellow and scarlet.” Around here, most of them have the color pictured above, but I saw several tinted in the yellows, and one that was definitely scarlet.
The flowers are attracting loads of pollinators, from winged insects to hummingbirds. A 2007 study at the University of Virginia concluded that “flame azalea blooms are ‘subject to pollen-induced senescence’—they tend to expire more rapidly once they have been pollinated—and that the amount of fruit set by the plant was greatly increased by hand outcrosses. This suggests that selection for flower life is more dependent on male function than female function.”
Historically, infusions of the plant were used by the Cherokee Indians as a gynecological aid, while peeled bark and twigs may have been used to treat areas affected by rheumatism.
Warning: All parts of this plant are highly toxic to humans and pets.
(Photo credit: S. G. Benson)
#flame azalea #appalachian spring flowers