The Q&A Archives: Rhododendrons and native azaleas

Question: Which varieties of rhododendrons and native azaleas do you recommend for south Alabama (Lake Martin)?
David Price

Answer: Native azaleas, often called bush honeysuckle, are as beautiful as many varieties brought into the state. Many have unusual yellow to orange and orange-red flowers, such as the Florida azalea. Most of them are either native to Alabama or will grow well in most areas of the state. Native azaleas lose their leaves in winter. The individual florets are trumpet shaped and usually borne in large terminal clusters. Identification of native azaleas is difficult because of the similarities between species. Natural hybridization has complicated the matter by producing many intermediate forms with unusual flower colors. You may need to ask for these varieties by their scientific names to be sure you get the right plant.

Florida azalea (Rhododendron austrinum) produces fragrant yellow flowers in late March and early April. They are native to north and west Florida, southwest Georgia, south Alabama, and southeast Mississippi. They grow to more than 12 feet tall.
Piedmont (R. canescens) flowers are white to light pink. They bloom in late March and early April. They may be found growing wild in north Florida to North Carolina and in Texas. They sometimes reach 15 feet tall.
Oconee (R. speciosum) usually flowers later than the Piedmont azalea. Its natural habitat is in western Georgia to South Carolina. The plants have orange to red-orange flowers. Some are low shrubs while others grow to 6 feet tall.
Pinxterbloom (R. nudiflorum) produces white, pale pink to violet-red flowers in early to mid-April. They are native to North Carolina and Tennessee. The plants are usually dwarf.
Pinkshell (R. vaseyi) has rose-pink flowers with green throats and orange-red dots. The tall plant blooms in mid-April. It is found mainly in the mountains of western North Carolina.
Alabama (R. alabamense) has white flowers with yellow blotches and grows 3 to 6 feet tall. It blooms in mid- to late April. It may be found growing wild in north-central Alabama and isolated areas of west central Georgia.
Coastal (R. atlanticum) flowers are white flushed with red. It is native to the Carolinas. The plants are low and very hardy.
Swamp (R. viscosum) flowers are white. They bloom from mid-May to early June. They are native to Alabama, Georgia, and areas northward. They are usually low growing.
Flame (R. calendulaceum) plants are tall. Their flowers are orange to yellow and bloom in late May and early June. They may be found wild in northern Georgia and areas northward.
Sweet (R. arborescens) is the best of the white natives. They bloom in late May and early June and are native to Alabama, Georgia, and areas northward. One form, the Georgiana azalea, flowers in July and sometimes in August.
Texas (R. oblongifolium) has white flowers. It is much like the Swamp azalea but is native to southwestern Arkansas, east Texas, and Oklahoma.
Cumberland (R. bakeri) flowers are yellow and red. They grow 2 to 5 feet tall and bloom in late June and early July. They are native to high elevations in Kentucky, Tennessee, north Georgia, and north Alabama.
Hammocksweet (R. serrulatum) has white flowers that bloom in late July to early August. The plants grow very tall. They are native to Georgia down to central Florida and also to Louisiana.
Plumleaf or Prunifolia (R. prunifolium) blooms from early July to early September. The flowers are orange to deep red and the plants grow to 20 feet tall. They grow wild in southwestern Georgia and eastern Alabama.

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