GARDENING: Native azaleas are spectacular in full bloom
Native azaleas are a treasure and can be a showstopper in your landscape. Some are in bloom now. A native azalea is so spectacular in full bloom that literally it can cause people to stop and ask, “What is that plant?”
There are a number of species, all in the Rhododendron genus, with flower color ranging from white to various shades of pink, yellow to various shades of orange to orange-red, based on the species.
Unlike the more common evergreen, non-native azaleas, most native azaleas are deciduous with flowers that are fragrant. Also known as bush honeysuckle, native azaleas have smaller flowers and are more delicate-looking.
Native azaleas are underused. Some are endangered.
The remainder of this article is mostly taken from the UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions website on Azaleas: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu.
Many of our native azaleas bloom in spring around the same time as the more common non-native azaleas with colors just as spectacular, ranging from pink to peach to yellow. Many new cultivars are being developed with flowers that bloom at specific times.
The native azalea will slowly grow up to 10 feet tall and will lose its leaves in winter. It prefers a well-drained, acidic soil and filtered sunlight. It’s drought tolerant and needs little maintenance other than occasional pruning to maintain a healthy shape.
The Florida flame azalea (R. austrinum) produces flowers that may range in color from white or pale yellow to orange-red flowers. It will grow up to 8 or 10 feet tall and has a looser growth habit than many of the commonly grown non-native cultivars.
Another deciduous azalea that is native to Florida (R. canescens) goes by a number of common names including pink pinxter azalea, Piedmont azalea and bush honeysuckle. This shrub can grow between 6 and 15 feet tall and produces fragrant, showy pink flowers in early spring, typically when the leaves first appear.
Cultivated varieties of deciduous azaleas include the Aromi hybrids, which were bred to perform well in the heat and humidity of the coastal South. These azaleas may reach up to 12 or 15 feet tall, depending on conditions. Popular selections include ‘Aromi Sunrise’ (orange-red buds opening to light orange with dark orange center), ‘Centerpiece’ (white flowers with yellow spots) and ‘Sunstruck’ (pale yellow buds opening to lemon yellow with darker patches).
If you have the right place for a native azalea, it can be a nice addition to your North Florida landscape. But don’t be surprised, when it is in full bloom, if people stop and ask, “What is that plant?”
Larry Williams is a UF/IFAS Extension Agent in Okaloosa County.