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Native Azaleas in GA

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by Dr. Sandra McDonald

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 challenge.

 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 publications.

 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, 1988).

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 central Georgia.

 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.


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Last updated: 08/16/02.