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Rhododendrons and Azaleas of Washington State
I am surrounded by vibrant colors. It is late May in Olympia, Washington, and the rhododendrons and azaleas have been in full-bloom for several weeks. Shortly the colors will be but a memory and we will wait eleven months for them to return. Such is the nature of these beautiful shrubs, a short visit to tantalize our senses and then gone as quickly as a jilted lover.
Some of my earliest memories are of road trips with my parents to the Olympic Peninsula to dig up wild rhododendrons and azaleas to plant in our own yard. They are and always have been a part of the backdrop of my life, often taken for granted and yet faithfully returning each year to add brightness and happiness to those of us lucky enough to live in this magnificent area.
I truly was not even aware of their uniqueness until a friend of mine from India, Vidya by name, mentioned that she did not know what an azalea was. For whatever reason I just assumed that everyone knew what they were; again, taken for granted. It seems it would be similar to having a beautiful movie actress as your mother; the beauty that arouses so many adoring fans just seems common nature to the children who see her every day.
For those of you not familiar with these species allow me to give you a short history.
QUICK FACTS ABOUT RHODODENDRONS AND AZALEAS
The rhododendron was “discovered” by Charles l’Ecluse, a Flemish botanist, in the 16th Century. It was then introduced to Britain in 1656 from the European Alps and the name, roughly translated, means Alpine Rose.
American native plants were introduced to England in the 1730’s; chief among these were the Canescens, Nudiflorum, Viscosum and Maximum.
Azaleas are a sub-category of Rhodendrons. The major difference being that Rhodies are evergreen and Azaleas are deciduous. Rhodies can grow quite tall, upwards of eighty feet, while Azaleas rarely grow larger than eight feet in height.
There are, of course, other differences between the two but I will leave that to the botanists and very serious gardeners of the world.
You might also be interested to know that the Rhododendron is the national flower of Nepal and the state flower of Sikkim in India. As for locally the Rhododendron is the floral emblem of Washington State.
ENOUGH TALK FOR NOW
I could go on but seriously, wouldn’t it be better to just gaze on the beauty rather than hear about it?
2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
- The American Rhododendron Society Welcomes You
The purpose of the Society is to encourage interest in and to disseminate knowledge about rhododendrons and azaleas.