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 May Flora Spotlight:
Rhododendron calendulaceum

Rhododendron calendulaceum

When William Bartram a Philadelphia born naturalist, viewed the flame azalea Rhododendron calendulaceum during his famous travels in WNC in the mid-1770’s he wrote, “the clusters of the blossoms cover the shrub in such incredible profusion on the hill sides, that suddenly opening to view from dark shades, we are alarmed with the apprehension of the hill being set on fire. This is certainly the most gay and brilliant flowering shrub yet known.....the plant exhibits a greater show of splendor.” Certainly that is a perfect way to describe this native azalea in mid to late spring. 

Rhododendron calendulaceum is an erect, deciduous shrub 5-9 feet high. Its tubular flowers, with 5 spreading, pointed lobes, are 2” across and they occur in clusters of 4-7 blossoms at the ends of the branches as the leaves are unfurling. The color of the blossoms can range from yellow, to orange to coral red. A member of the heath family, flame azaleas like open oak woods, damp slopes or mountain stream banks. The flower shape and color of Rhododendron calendulaceum is particularly attractive to Ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris), which are often seen amongst them.

For color in your spring landscape, consider this native flame azalea. 
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