We’ve all been enjoying the gorgeous blooms and colors of the many different Oriental azaleas that have been making a show here in late March and early April. Did you know there are native azaleas that can be found in our local forests and woods?
Azaleas are close relatives of the big Rhododendrons that make a beautiful show every spring in our mountains. In fact, “Rhododendron” is the proper botanical genus for azaleas. Here on the coast, there are at least three different species of wild or native azaleas. These are R. atlanticum or Coast Azalea, R. viscosum or Swamp Azalea, and R. nudiflorum or Pinxter flower. Both the Coast and Swamp azaleas are fragrant. Another native of the Southeast, but not of NC is the Florida or Flame azalea, R. austrinum which has spectacular red, orange, or yellow flowers and can look like a spark of flame in the landscape. It grows well in our area too.
All our native azaleas are deciduous or bare of leaves in the winter, and many will spread from the roots (stoloniferous) making a clump or grouping as they mature. As is true of all azaleas, natives need acid soil, are shallow rooted, and are at their best in light shade with regular watering. They also need a light mulch of pine straw or composted materials. If you have the right environment in your landscape, try a native azalea.
Written by Carolyn Hoss, Master Gardener℠ volunteer