Ellen has been gardening with and appreciating native plants for eleven years in north metro Atlanta. She is especially fond of native shrubs and trees but is willing to learn to love herbaceous plants as well. Helping others to see the beauty and versatility of Georgia's native plants, whether it be in the wild or in the garden, is both a passion and a compulsion -- just ask her kids! Ellen is an active member of the Georgia Native Plant Society and the Georgia Botanical Society. She uses her personal blog, usinggeorgianativeplants.blogspot.com, to share seasonal ideas and pictures about native plants in her area.

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Native Azaleas
by Ellen Honeycutt - posted 04/03/12

Azaleas in the springtime are every bit as familiar as our beloved native Dogwood (Cornus florida).  But the azaleas that most people buy, plant, and see in other gardens are azaleas from Asia.  Those azaleas have evergreen leaves and come in a wide range of colors.  Native azaleas, which used to be known as "wild honeysuckle", are every bit as beautiful but not as well known.

Piedmont azalea, Rhododendron canescens

Georgia's native azaleas are members of the Rhododendron genus and are deciduous shrubs (they drop their leaves in the winter).  Georgia has an abundance of them naturally - twelve different species make their home here.  Some of them are delightfully fragrant - hence the common name of "wild honeysuckle".  Many of them are white but they also come in shades of pink, yellow, orange and red.  When different species are near each other, they can hybridize naturally and create new colors.  In my area there is both the fragrant Piedmont azalea (Rhododendron canescens) and the colorful Oconee azalea (Rhododendron flammeum).  The Piedmont azalea lends its fragrance to the mix while the Oconee brings color.  In the pictures below, the flower on the left is likely a hybrid of Piedmont and Oconee while the flower on the right is pure Oconee - but that is just my personal guess!


In my personal collection I also have a spectacular red azalea - the late blooming Plumleaf azalea.  This azalea is normally found in the area around Callaway Gardens; in fact it is the symbol of Callaway Gardens as it was one of the reasons to preserve the area.  It blooms in late June and into July. 

Plumleaf azalea, Rhododendron prunifolium


Nurserymen have used the plumleaf azalea to hybridize with a number of other late blooming azaleas - in particular the swamp white azalea Rhododendron viscosum.  Last year I bought one of these hybrids and it is a beautiful plant that blooms in late May through June.  It is called 'Millenium' and has the color of the plumleaf with a slight fragrance of the swamp.  In addition the foliage is bluish-green which pairs nicely with the blooms.


Rhododendron x 'Millenium'

Many other hybrids are in the trade and native azaleas are being more regularly stocked by mainstream nurseries - even stores like Home Depot.  But you can find a really good selection of them at the spring plant sale held by the Georgia Native Plant Society on Saturday, April 14, 2012 in Marietta, GA.



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