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Rhododendron Photos, Facts, and Care Tips

Updated on April 05, 2016
AliciaC profile image

Linda Crampton is a teacher with an honours degree in biology. She loves to study nature and write about animals and plants.

Rhododendron Flowers
Rhododendron Flowers | Source

May is rhododendron month where I live. The flower buds on the rhododendron bushes open, producing beautiful, showy blossoms and a gorgeous display of color. This is a wonderful time of year for gardeners, photographers and everyone else who loves rhododendrons.

The word "rhododendron" comes from two Ancient Greek words - "rhodon", which means rose, and "dendron"' which means tree. Despite the derivation of their name, most rhododendrons grow as shrubs, which are evergreen or deciduous. Some are wild plants, but there are many cultivated forms. These are popular with gardeners and landscapers because of their large and very attractive flowers.

I live in southwestern British Columbia, where the climate is perfect for cultivated rhododendrons. They grow well and abundantly here. They are evergreen plants with large leaves and spectacular flowers that open in late spring. My city has an annual rhododendron festival in May, where people celebrate rhododendron flowers as well as horticulture, nature and the arts.

A cream-colored rhododendron
A cream-colored rhododendron | Source
A deep pink rhododendron
A deep pink rhododendron | Source

What is a Rhododendron?

All rhododendrons belong to the genus Rhododendron. The genus is the first part of the scientific name of a living thing. There is a huge variety of plants within the Rhododendron genus, however, and in addition the different varieties easily hybridize, which can make classification difficult. Plant breeders frequently create new hybrids to produce rhododendrons with interesting characteristics. Cultivated rhododendrons are generally identifiied by descriptive names such as Pink Pearl, Saffron Queen and Paprika Spiced.

Ornamental rhododendrons such as the ones shown in most of my photos have large, oval leaves with a glossy dark or medium green upper surface and a dull, pale green lower surface. The flowers are bell-shaped and are born in clusters known as trusses. They may be white, yellow, pink, red or purple In color.

A purple rhododendron - my favorite color
A purple rhododendron - my favorite color | Source
Azalea
Azalea | Source

What is an Azalea?

It may seem strange referring to azaleas in an article about rhododendrons, but azaleas are actually a type of rhododendron. The genus Rhododendron is divided into eight subgroups, or subgenera. Azaleas belong to two of these subgenera.

Azaleas are attractive flowering shrubs, but their flowers aren't as large or as showy as those of the ornamental rhododendrons that are so popular in my part of the world. Azaleas also have smaller leaves and are shorter in height. Ornamental rhododendrons can become very large plants and may reach the size of a tree. Most azaleas are deciduous while most ornamental rhododendrons are evergreen.

Another way of distinguishing the two plants is to look closely at the flowers. Azalea flowers tend to be more funnel-shaped than ornamental rhododendron flowers. In addition, an azalea flower has five stamens (the male reproductive structures) while an ornamental rhododendron has ten or more. The stamens produce the pollen grains. They surround the style, which is longer than the stamens and is part of the female reproductive structure.

An Azalea
An Azalea | Source
The Pacific or Western Rhododendron, a wild plant native to western North America
The Pacific or Western Rhododendron, a wild plant native to western North America | Source

Wild Rhododendrons

Rhododendron macrophyllum grows in the Pacific Northwest region of North America. This region is usually defined as the province of British Columbia in Canada and the states of Washington and Oregon in the United States. The common name of Rhododendron macrophyllum is the Pacific, Western or Coast Rhododendron. The plant generally has pink flowers and is the state flower of Washington.

Rhododendron arboreum is the national flower of Nepal. It's known as laligurans or gurans in that country and forms magnificent mountain forests. At lower elevations the flowers are bright red. They change to pink or white as the elevation increases. The plant is also found in India, Sri Lanka, China, Thailand, Bhutan and Myanmar.

Rhododendrons and Other Flowers in Nepal

Rhododendron Care Tips

Grooming and Pruning Rhododendrons

How to Grow Rhododendrons

Most varieties of cultivated rhododendrons require moist but well drained soil that is also slightly acidic. The soil should contain organic matter in the form of peat or compost. It should also be loose, crumbly and well aerated. Rhododendrons require a good supply of water, but the soil mustn't be water-logged. Standing water can cause root rot.

Rhododendrons like a semi-shaded area with dappled sunlight, but will grow in an open area if the sun is not too hot and the soil is sufficiently moist.

Rhododendrons are generally bought from plant stores or nurseries in pots. They have fine roots. The soil around the roots needs to be loosened when a plant is taken out of a pot to be planted. This stimulates the growth of new roots.

Once a rhododendron is growing successfully it may need attention to keep it healthy and compact. Removing dead trusses, or dead heading, not only makes the plant look more attractive but stops it from producing large amounts of seed. This allows its energy to be used for other purposes and may increase its growth. Pruning can help the plant maintain a desirable shape.

How to Plant a Rhododendron

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Poisonous Rhododendrons

The chief poison in rhododendrons is a type of grayanotoxin known as andromedotoxin. This poison is quite similar in structure to pinene, a component of turpentine.

Andromedotoxin is present in the leaves and flowers of a rhododendron plant. It burns the mouth of an animal or human that eats it, which limits its danger. Most animals avoid it. In addition, our body can break the toxin down. The toxin is harmful if a large amount is ingested, however. It causes stomach upset, nausea and vomiting at first. Soon a low blood pressure develops, as well as muscle weakness and a lack of muscle coordination. The historical record shows that some people have died after eating honey made by bees that have collected pollen and nectar from rhododendron flowers.

Source
A red rhododendron
A red rhododendron | Source

Finding Rhododendrons

At the moment it's hard to go for a walk in my neighbourhood without seeing rhododendron flowers in someone else's garden. I find rhododendrons in multiple colors as well as orange azaleas. Many landscaped areas, parks and botanical gardens also have rhododendrons or azaleas for me to admire and photograph.

Plant stores and nurseries often have a wide selection of rhododendrons that can be purchased. They may also provide information about the plants and offer useful workshops. In addition, there are many rhododendron societies that provide information and growing instructions. Most of these societies have very helpful websites. It's easy for a rhododendron enthusiast to find help!

A rhododendron in the rain
A rhododendron in the rain | Source

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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      They have busted out all over down here in Washington. Love the sights this time of year....brilliant colors. Anyway, great tips for those who have not had the good fortune to live where we live.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      The flower colors are certainly very enjoyable, especially at this time of year! Thanks for the visit, Bill.

    • tlpoague profile image

      Tammy 3 years ago from USA

      Wow, I found it interesting to read about people dying from eating honey made from these flowers. I would have never thought about that till you mentioned it. Great hub! I loved the photos too!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks, tipoague! I appreciate your visit and comment.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 3 years ago

      Useful hub for me. We have one rhodo thriving and one that is really struggling. Unfortunately is the big one in the corner of the front of the house that is not doing well. Pinned for future reference.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the comment and for pinning the hub, Glimmer Twin Fan. Good luck with your rhodo!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Alicia,

      I did not know that rhododendrons and azaleas were related but the flowers are certainly similar. The azaleas grown in our part of the world are evergreen. In fact I did not even realize that some are deciduous. My husband and I loved the tall and beautiful rhododendrons we saw blooming in the Golden Gate Park on one of our vacation trips. I really enjoyed learning about them from your wonderfully illustrated hub. Up votes and pinning.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the comment, the vote and the pin, Peggy. I've never been to Golden Gate Park. That's a trip that I'd very much like to make!

    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 3 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Great pix!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, Maren Morgan. I appreciate your comment about the photos!

    • Ingenira profile image

      Ingenira 3 years ago

      Such a beautiful flowers, and excellent photos too ! And good to know more about this "rose tree".

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the visit and the comment, Ingenira!

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 3 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for this. These do really well in SF.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, Martin. It's interesting to hear that rhododendrons grow well in South Francisco.

    • CMHypno profile image

      CMHypno 3 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Thanks for all the great tips on growing rhododenrons and azaleas Alicia, such beautiful, colourful flowers.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, Cynthia. Rhododendrons and azaleas are beautiful. I love to look at the flowers and to photograph them!

    • Fossillady profile image

      Kathi 3 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

      I've had the best luck with azaleas, but love them both! Thanks for the tips! Take care, Kathi

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the visit and the comment, Kathi. I love both of these flowers, too!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I had a lovely lavender rhody in DE when I lived there, which was pretty old. When I bought the house, I heavily pruned it, and it ended up gorgeous, with the sweetest aroma. When I lived in central PA, they had wild white rhody plants, which were very beautiful. I recall them growing out of the shale outcroppings in higher elevations.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for sharing the information, Deb. It's lovely to see wild rhododendrons as well as the cultivated types. They are all beautiful!

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 3 years ago from south Florida

      Your rhododendron photos are spectacular, Alicia. My favorite is the purple variety, too. Thanks for the rhodo gardening tips but I don't think they grow well in the sub-tropics where I live. Too hot, too humid.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much, drbj. Although rhododendrons don't grow well where you live, I'm sure that there are some beautiful flowers that grow well in your climate but don't grow well in mine!

    • Suzie HQ profile image

      Suzanne Ridgeway 3 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Hi Alicia,

      What a stunning collection of photos you have! Such gorgeous Rhododendrons and I agree with you purple is my favorite too. Really interesting article and did not know azaleas were related but now it makes logical sense. Great article, voted up +++= shared and pinned to flowers!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you so much for such a lovely comment, Suzie! I appreciate the vote, the share and the pin, too!

    • Gail Meyers profile image

      Gail Meyers 3 years ago from United States

      These are beautiful. Thanks for the information and pictures.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, Gail. Rhododendrons are beautiful. It's very enjoyable to photograph them.

    • oliversmum profile image

      oliversmum 3 years ago from australia

      AliciaC. Hi. Thank you for all this information on the Rhododendron,especially the poison which I was unaware of.

      The photographs and colors are beautiful. :) :)

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much, oliversmum. I appreciate your visit!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      The photos are so beautiful and the information opens my ind to new knowledge and a great hub indeed!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, DDE. Thanks for the visit and the comment!

    • profile image

      Dhanvi Patel 4 months ago

      very beautiful

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 4 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the comment, Dhanvi Patel.

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