Wednesday, March 27, 2013

An Unusual Native Azalea

Native azaleas have to be some of the prettiest wildflowers we can call our own in the South. And the Florida azalea cultivar, Rhododendron austrinum 'Millie Mac', is one of the most interesting I've seen.

Descriptions of this plant say the flowers are yellow, but you can see how it looks from a distance in the small photo below—almost peachy. The red from the floral tubes and yellowish corollas combine to make a light orange plant in the landscape, which is something to consider before you add one to your garden.

Up close, you can see 'Millie Mac' has white-edged petals with golden yellow centers, and long, delicate stamens that give rise to the common name "wild honeysuckle." I can see the resemblance, can't you? Unfortunately, azaleas are mildly poisonous, so don't sip the nectar from these.

'Millie Mac', like most other native azaleas, is deciduous and tends to grow taller than wide.  The flowers are smaller and more tubular than Asian azaleas, and they have a wonderful fragrance, a trait often missing from hybridized plants. Bloom time for native azaleas is slightly later than the Asian ones, usually in April or May, so planting a few could extend the season another few weeks for you. (Pruneleaf azaleas bloom even later—August/September.)

Adding a native azalea to your garden is a good way to attract native wildlife as well, and to increase the biodiversity of your neighborhood. Nevermind they're pretty...and they smell nice!

Other native azaleas to consider include the pinkshell, Piedmont, coastal, pinxterbloom, and flame azaleas, but whether you plant 'Millie Mac' or one of those, you'll be glad you did.

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I've submitted this post for Wildflower Wednesday at Clay and Limestone. Hop over there and take a look at this month's entries!

Photos taken at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden in April of 2010.