NATIVE AZALEAS IN GEORGIA
The native azaleas and their hybrids are becoming ever
more popular in the Southeastern U. S. as well as in most other areas where
they can be grown. The State of Georgia is one of our richest states in
total number of species of deciduous azaleas native to it. There are some
thirteen species in the state. The Distribution of Vascular Flora of
Georgia (Jones and Coile, 1988) shows some of the distribution of twelve
species, and Fred Galle (1985) reports the additional species R.
cumberlandense (synonym bakeri) from several locations. The overlap in
distribution of species is very great and overlap of blooming seasons also
occurs, making interspecific hybrids and introgression frequent. (Interspecific
hybrids result when two different species have been successfully crossed
either in nature or by man. Introgression results when an interspecific
hybrid back crosses with one of its parental species through a number of
generations, resulting in plants that look mainly like the one species, but
possess some genes of the other species). This is apparently common in
Georgia and makes determining the species of many of the natives a real
A brief overview of the Georgia native azalea species,
their colors, general distributions and approximate bloom times, will help
in understanding and recognizing the species. More complete information on
the native species can be found in Galle (1974, 1985) and other
The earliest blooming native azalea species are the
pure white to deep pink R. canescens and the golden yellow R.
austrinum, which both bloom in late March and early April. Both are
fragrant. R. canescens is found throughout Georgia; R. austrinum
is confined primarily to the southwestern part of the state, but has been
found in other locations.
In early to mid-April the yellow, salmon or strong
pink R. flammeum (syn. speciosum) is found blooming in a very broad
band east to west across the state in the Piedmont region.
The white to deep violet and fragrant R.
periclymenoides (syn. nudiflorum) begins blooming in mid-April and is
found in parts of northeast, west and central Georgia (Jones and Coile,
The pink fragrant R. prinophyllum (syn. roseum)
blooms in April to May and though rare has been reported in a northeast
county of Georgia (Jones and Coile, 1988).
Also in mid-April to May the rare and lovely fragrant
white R. alabamense can be found blooming in many of the counties on
the western border of the state and in west central Georgia.
Blooming about the same time as R. alabamense in
April and May is the fragrant white, sometimes flushed with red R.
atlanticum. R. atlanticum is native to southeastern Georgia on
the coastal plain which borders the Atlantic Ocean.
R. calendulaceum, the non-fragrant yellow to
orange to red flame azalea, blooms in May in the upper Piedmont region of
northwestern Georgia. Blooming season is somewhat later at high elevations.
The fragrant white R. viscosum in its various
forms grows throughout the state and blooms mid-May to July.
Non-fragrant bright orange to red R. cumberlandense
blooms in mid to late June and early July and is native to northern Georgia,
usually at high elevations.
R. arborescens is a fragrant white species
occasionally flushed pink or red, and often with prominent yellow blotch and
conspicuous red style. The southern form blooms in July and occasionally
into August (Galle, Native and Some Introduced Azaleas for Southern
Gardens), though in other areas other forms of this species bloom in
late May and early June. R. arborescens is found in north Georgia and
the lower Piedmont.
R. prunifolium, the plumleaf azalea, blooming in
July, August and occasionally into September is non-fragrant and orange to
deep red. It is native to western and southwestern Georgia in several of the
counties bordering Alabama.
R. serrulatum, the fragrant white Hammock-sweet
azalea, blooms in late July, early August and some forms even into
September. It grows on parts of the coastal plain in southeast to east
Considering the wealth of species and hybrids of
native azaleas in Georgia, one should be able to find a native azalea in
bloom somewhere in Georgia from March through August or even into September,
an intriguing thought for native azalea enthusiasts.