Native Deciduous Azaleas — What’s not to love?

Rhododendron periclymenoides ‘Purple’

Today I offer you more evidence of my obsession with native deciduous azaleas. Another time, I’ll give you background on their habits and growth requirements. Today, I’m just going to share with you how gosh darn pretty they all are.

I am not a species purist. I’ll grow crosses and cultivars derived from natives if they sound sufficiently interesting. Such is the case with ‘Purple’ above. It’s a named cultivar of our regional Piedmont azalea, commonly called Pinxterbloom Azalea (R. periclymenoides). Although, I don’t think I would have gone so far as to call this flower purple, compared to the species, it is more purple-toned.

For comparison, here’s a shot of the species version of Pinxterbloom Azalea:

R. periclymenoides — Pinxterbloom Azalea

It is much pinker, I think you’ll agree. I planted the above azalea about twenty years ago, and it is now fifteen feet tall and ten feet wide. Magnificent doesn’t adequately describe it.

‘Purple’ is a more recent addition, but it’s already about five feet tall and equally wide. Give them the conditions they like, wait a few years, and enjoy the show for many years to follow.

But wait, one more azalea is peaking right now in my north-facing garden (protected by deer fencing). It’s still small, but remarkably floriferous. Here’s a shot of the entire plant:

Rhododendron ‘Pastel #20’ (probably)

I say it’s probably Pastel #20, because I seem to have misplaced the label. But by perusing the listings of the nursery from which I purchased it, I don’t think it can be anything else. Now here’s a close-up so you can appreciate the gorgeousness of this one:

Rhododendron ‘Pastel 20’

See the delicate dusting of yellow-orange inside the petal? Click on this photo to see it more clearly.  The nursery I bought this beauty from believes it to be a spontaneous hybrid involving R. alabamensis, R. canescens, and R. flammeum. I don’t really care about its origins; I’m just delighted that it’s growing so beautifully.

I spent a lot of time researching the site requirements of every native deciduous azalea I planted. Some occupy sharp slopes above streams, others like dry hilltops, and some prefer downright swampy conditions. By paying careful attention to their needs, I’m now reaping the rewards of my research. Every year, the plants grow larger and their blooms become more spectacular.

The best part, as far as I’m concerned, is that two-thirds of my deciduous azaleas haven’t yet bloomed, although many are close. This rapid succession of blooms marks the peak of Piedmont springtime. As the last bloom fades and falls, my attention will likely turn to tomatoes.

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