The blooms keep coming — more deciduous azaleas

Coastal Azalea

The change in wind direction after a frontal passage brought this azalea to my attention. Its powerful fragrance is described as clove-scented in some references. To my nose, it’s a tad overpowering, especially for a native deciduous azalea so relatively diminutive in size.

My cultivar of Coastal Azalea (Rhododendron atlanticum) is Winterthur, and its advantage is that, unlike the species, it is not stoloniferous. That means it won’t spread itself via underground roots. In my case, that’s a good thing, because in its native sandy soil of the Coastal Plain of the mid-Atlantic and Carolinas, this shrub has been known to cover a square mile. That’s too much of a good thing, even for me.  My references tell me that the species doesn’t spread so much in heavier soils, so it’s likely that Piedmont clay would inhibit its enthusiasm somewhat.

Coastal Azalea only grows three to four feet high and about as wide. It’s definitely the most petite native deciduous azalea I grow. But between the snow-white flowers and their potent perfume, you’ll never miss it in your shady landscape. Because this shrub naturally occurs in open pine forests in well-drained soil, I planted mine at the top of my hill beneath mature pines. It has been blooming for a few days now, and I’ll probably get another week of flowers before it’s done.

Also blooming right now is a cultivar of Oconee Azalea (Rhododendron flammeum) called Scarlet Ibis.  Its flowers have no fragrance, but they are lovely, as you can see here:

R. flammeum ‘Scarlet Ibis’

When I purchased this cultivar, I imagined it would be redder than the species. But in my yard, it’s really more pink than red. Don’t get me wrong — I think it’s gorgeous — just not what I was expecting. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, because flower color in this species in the wild is quite variable, ranging from yellow to salmon to orange-red. It naturally occurs in the Piedmont of Georgia and South Carolina and is noted for its heat tolerance.

In my yard, Scarlet Ibis blooms about a week after my plain species Oconee Azalea finishes blooming. It is about six feet high now, and is supposed to top out at eight feet, with a similar spread. The flowers of my species representative are a magnificent shade of orange-red, which is why I was surprised when my Scarlet Ibis turned out to be paler than the species. Here’s a close-up that Wonder Spouse took of the flowers of the plain species:

Oconee Azalea (Rhododendron flammeum)

As you can see, they’re both lovely azaleas. But the one that grabs your eye in the shady landscape of my yard is the species version. The deep orange fire of the flowers cannot be ignored.

Scarlet Ibis, on the other hand, is more subtle. Luckily for me, I planted this cultivar along the edge of a bed near the house, where I can’t overlook its exquisite blooms.

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  1. #1 by Jim Rodgers on December 22, 2011 - 11:33 am

    I want you to know how much I enjoyed reading your site with all the great description as wells as, William Bartram’s visions. That is a great book to read for sure. The sad thing is at the Manifest Destiny minded people have all but destroyed the magnificent world where the Natives Americans of the east lived and what Williams witnessed. The Native Americans and species of animals that also long gone forever due to this arrogant attitude:(

    With all my experience with growing Native Rhododendron and seeing them in the wild that is left. I have run across R.flammeum and canescens population that freely hybridize producing similar forms like you purchased as ‘Scarlet Ibis’. As a retail native garden center I will tell you that plants are far too often Miss Labeled or Miss Identified by the growers or the middleman wholesalers.l

    So my vote without genetic testing would be you have a hybrid cross between canescens and flammeum. Still a stunning Native Shrub that should be admired and enjoyed!

    Keep up the posting I truly enjoy reading this site:)

    • #2 by piedmontgardener on December 22, 2011 - 2:14 pm

      Thanks, Jim. I appreciate the compliments, and I’m not at all surprised about the hybrid confusion among my native azaleas. As you say, the main thing is to enjoy them, leaving true genetic IDs to the experts who care about such things. 🙂

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