Nine Kinds of Native Azalea

Nine Kinds of Native Azalea

We decided on mountain laurel, rhododendron and azalea for all around the new house.

My husband went to school with Richard Mucci. His wife raises native azalea. Cliff told me to take a look at the website: www.mountainmist-nursery.com and pick something out.

About Native Azaleas

The deciduous native azaleas or wild azaleas that we grow are native to the East Coast of the United States. Our goal is to produce plants as they reproduce in nature, primarily from seed as well as some by cuttings from those that will root.

www.mountainmist-nursery.com/about-native-azaleas.html

I had already decided on where I would put azalea. I was thinking of just whatever they had at Lowe’s, in an assortment of colors. But, this is better!

I knew there were a lot of varieties available, but I did not have any idea how many kinds of native azalea there are.

I read the website, but I liked everything. We decided to just drive out there and ask what Susan Mucci recommended for our yard.

They usually don’t have people come out to the nursery. It is out some windy roads somewhere between Asheville, Lake Lure and Chimney Rock. Or so Cliff said. I took Dramamine.

But we got there and the setting is beautiful. Some of the azalea are towering over where we parked. I had no idea the wild azalea could grow so tall. There was a light fragrance. Did you know that azalea can be fragrant?

Seems like where I want the azalea is ideal for any of them, so it was just a matter of choosing from other features. Some grow really high. Others stay shorter. And some are fragrant.

So, these are the ones we selected.

Nine Kinds of Native Azalea

Florida Azalea (Rhododendron austrinum)
Florida Azalea (Rhododendron austrinum)

Florida Azalea (Rhododendron austrinum)

  • Fragrant
  • 6 to 8 feet tall and wide (Can get up to 10 feet tall and 8 feet wide.)
  • Light shade to full sun
  • Deciduous: Leaves turn yellow in the fall, loses all leaves with first frost
  • Blooms early, before the leaves come in
Florida Azalea (Rhododendron austrinum)
Florida Azalea (Rhododendron austrinum)
Florida Azalea (Rhododendron austrinum)
Florida Azalea (Rhododendron austrinum)

Did you know there are wild azalea in Florida? I never would have guessed.  They are native in the Florida panhandle, into Georgia and Mississippi, but only around 100 miles from the Gulf of Mexico.

Native Flame Azalea  (R. calendulaceum)
Native Flame Azalea  (R. calendulaceum)
Plant Image Library, Boston, USA

Native Flame Azalea  (R. calendulaceum)

  • Sometimes very slightly fragrant
  • 4 to 8 feet tall and wide (Can get up to 10 feet or taller.)
  • Light shade to full sun
  • Deciduous: Leaves sometimes turn muted yellow and red in the fall
  • Blooms early, before the leaves come in

This is the only native azalea I knew about. They are wild all over around here. I looked it up. They are wild as far north as southern New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. And they grow in the mountains as far south as northern Georgia.

Native Flame Azalea (R. calendulaceum)
Native Flame Azalea (R. calendulaceum)

Native Flame Azalea is the showiest native azalea, covered in clusters of flowers. Sometimes they can be more red or more yellow, but usually Flame Azalea is orange.  They look like honeysuckle, but they are poisonous.

Sweet Azalea flower, Scotts Run Nature Preserve, Fairfax county Virginia, USAPhoto by Fritz Flohr Reynolds
Sweet Azalea flower, Scotts Run Nature Preserve, Fairfax county Virginia, USA
Photo by Fritz Flohr Reynolds

Sweet Azalea (R. arborescens)

  • Very fragrant
  • 5 to 6 feet tall and wide (Can get up to 20 feet or taller.)
  • Sun to part shade
  • Deciduous: Leaves turn deep red to purple in the fall
  • Blooms later, toward summer
Sweet Azalea (R. arborescens)
Sweet Azalea (R. arborescens)
Sweet Azalea (R. arborescens)
Sweet Azalea (R. arborescens)

These are supposed to smell wonderful. The flowers are poisonous to us, but hummingbirds love their nectar.

I put them in where we will see from the back porch.

Jake's Red (R. flammeum)
Jake’s Red Azalea (R. flammeum)

Jake’s Red (R. flammeum)

  • Fragrant, described as perfume-like
  • Dwarf, no more than 3 to 4 feet tall
  • Partial shade
  • Deciduous
  • Blooms a lot

Jake’s Red is a cultivar, a selectively bred azalea. It was added to the International Rhododendron Register by Earl Sommerville.

Jake's Red (R. flammeum)
Jake’s Red Azalea (R. flammeum)
Jake's Red (R. flammeum)
Jake’s Red Azalea (R. flammeum)

Earl Sommerville comes up a lot when you read about azalea. He has one of the largest collections of Native Azalea selections and cultivars in the world on his two acres on Little Kennesaw Mountain in Cobb County, Georgia.

Walter Ligon (R. flammeum)
Walter Ligon Azalea (R. flammeum)

Walter Ligon (R. flammeum)

  • Not fragrant that I can find. I’ll update you when it blooms.
  • Stays small, no more than 6 to 8 feet tall at most
  • Deciduous
  • Blooms mid-May

This is one of the more recently discovered azaleas. It was found in 1998. Ed Stephens found it growing wild in Cobb County, south central Georgia.

Walter Ligon (R. flammeum)
Walter Ligon Azalea (R. flammeum)
Walter Ligon (R. flammeum)
Walter Ligon Azalea (R. flammeum)

Who is Ed Stephens? Who is Walter Ligon? There is an azalea named Ed Stephens. He is mentioned along with Earl Sommerville. In a number of articles, people mention Ed Stephens giving them azaleas. The 2002 issue of The Azalean, Journal of the Azalea Society of America lists Walter Ligon as the visual arts competition coordinator and as one of the judges and for the 2002 Atlanta Convention. Earl Sommerville chaired the convention and coordinated the activities planning.

Samford Sorbet (Auburn Azalea Series) Photo from the Auburn Azaleas Website
Samford Sorbet Azalea (Auburn Azalea Series)
Photo from the Auburn Azaleas Website

Samford Sorbet (Auburn Azalea Series)

  • Deciduous
  • Blooms early and peak, April or so

I can’t find anything that says how tall, whether it is fragrant, whether it likes sun or shade, what color the leaves may turn in the fall.

Samford Sorbet (Auburn Azalea Series)
Samford Sorbet Azalea (Auburn Azalea Series)
Samford Sorbet (Auburn Azalea Series)
Samford Sorbet Azalea (Auburn Azalea Series)
Samford Sorbet (Auburn Azalea Series)
Samford Sorbet Azalea (Auburn Azalea Series)
Samford Sorbet (Auburn Azalea Series)
Samford Sorbet Azalea (Auburn Azalea Series)

Samford Sorbet is a cultivar, a selectively bred azalea in the Auburn Azalea Series. Auburn University scientists, faculty and staff have developed native hybrid azaleas for more than 30 years.

About Auburn Azaleas

The Auburn Azaleas are the result of more than thirty years of breeding and trials brought to you by Auburn University’s Davis Arboretum.  American gardeners can enjoy the hardiness and long bloom season of our native azaleas, combined with the beauty of the world’s best horticultural selections.

thomppg.wixsite.com/auburnazalea

Pinkshell Azalea (R. vaseyi)
Pinkshell Azalea (R. vaseyi)

Pinkshell Azalea (R. vaseyi)

  • Not fragrant
  • 6 to 10 feet tall and wide (up to 17 feet, but unlikely)
  • Full sun to filtered shade
  • Deciduous: Leaves turn red and deep burgundy in the fall
  • Blooms early, before the leaves
Pinkshell Azalea (R. vaseyi)
Pinkshell Azalea (R. vaseyi)
Pinkshell Azalea (R. vaseyi)
Pinkshell Azalea (R. vaseyi)

Pinkshell Azalea is one of the earliest spring flowers. They are native to North Carolina and grow wild in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The flowers are larger than most azalea. Some grow really tall. There are some that are up to 17 feet tall. But, usually they stay below 10 feet tall. I think we can handle it.

Cumberland Azalea (R. cumberlandense, R. bakeri) Photo by Sheila Neal
Cumberland Azalea (R. cumberlandense, R. bakeri)
Photo by Sheila Neal

Cumberland Azalea (R. cumberlandense, R. bakeri)

  • Not fragrant
  • 3 to 5 feet tall and wide (stays low, but spreads wide)
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Deciduous
  • Blooms early to mid summer
Cumberland Azalea (R. cumberlandense, R. bakeri)
Cumberland Azalea (R. cumberlandense, R. bakeri)
Cumberland Azalea (R. cumberlandense, R. bakeri)
Cumberland Azalea (R. cumberlandense, R. bakeri)

Cumberland Azalea is native to the mountains of Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Northern Georgia and Alabama.

In the wild, people think they are seeing a Flame Azalea but Cumberland Azalea  is smaller, redder and blooms later.  Flame azalea flowers before the leaves come out. Cumberland Azalea doesn’t flower until the leaves are fully out, early to mid-summer.

Pinxter Azalea (R. periclymenoides)
Pinxter Azalea (R. periclymenoides)

Pinxter Azalea (R. periclymenoides)

  • Fragrant
  • 2 to 6 feet tall and wide (up to 10’, but unlikely)
  • Half sun
  • Deciduous: Leaves turn yellow to deep gold in the fall
  • Blooms early spring to spring
Pinxter Azalea (R. periclymenoides)
Pinxter Azalea (R. periclymenoides)
Pinxter Azalea (R. periclymenoides)
Pinxter Azalea (R. periclymenoides)

Pinxter azaleas are native. They grow from Massachusetts to South Carolina and Tennessee.

I liked this one so much; I bought two and put them under the windows in front of the house.

Pinxter was one of the first American azaleas popular in England and Ireland. It was discovered and recorded in 1734 by Rev. John Banister, one of the first university-trained naturalists in North America.

Banister studied at Oxford, where there were already a lot of American plants in the Oxford Botanic Garden, the oldest botanic garden in Great Britain and one of the oldest scientific gardens in the world. Later he was as a Church of England missionary assigned to Virginia by Bishop Henry Compton, a real enthusiast for botany and gardens.  Banister sent drawings, descriptions and specimens back to Compton and other correspondents.

Old postcard of Bishop’s Park at Fulham Palace in London where the first American azalea was grown
Old postcard of Bishop’s Park at Fulham Palace in London where the first American azalea was grown

You can tour Bishop Henry Compton’s garden, the Fulham Palace gardens, where the first American azalea was grown in England. (Also where the first coffee tree was grown in England)

It appears highly probably that most of the American trees and plants at Fulham were introduced by the Rev. John Banister, who was sent by the bishop as a missionary to Virginia. John Banister…  was one of the first British collectors in North America. He published a Catalogue of the plants he observed there, dated 1680…

Banister was one of the early martyrs to natural history, having, in one of his excursions, fallen from a rock and perished.

Arboretum Et Fruticetum Britannicum

Rev. John Banister was also one of the founders of the College of William & Mary.

Mountain Mist Nursery

We bought all of these plants at Mountain Mist Nursery.

Mountain Mist Nursery is owned and operated by Susan and Richard Mucci. They can ship native azalea any state east of the Rocky Mountains.

They ship when it’s cool enough not to kill the plants, from September till April or May.

Jack-in-the-pulpit from Mountain Mist Nursery
Jack-in-the-pulpit from Mountain Mist Nursery

They also have local fern and other plants that are indigenous to this area.