Fiery Bursts of Color From Flame Azalea

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A Flame Azalea in bloom stops me in my tracks every time. Just a stunning testament to the native beauty of this region. As Jackson County native plant nurseryman Lee Crites

Close up of an orange flower

of Harvest Moon Gardens tells me “You know you’re in the mountains when you see the Flame Azalea”.

The funnel-shaped flowers can be 2” diameter, blooming in loose 5-10 flowers groups from May-July. These flowers sport magnificent color that range from yellow to orange to red and showcase protruding stamens

Rhododendon calendulaceum(1)

that add a delightful airy feel to the blooms. The fiery red orange nectar rich flowers attract pollinators to.

Flame azalea is an upright, woody, deciduous shrub that is actually in the blueberry family. It typically matures to 4 to 8 feet tall – sometimes even to 10 to 15 feet tall, and 8 to 10 feet wide. It is native primarily to woodland slopes and mountain balds at elevations from 600 to 5000 ft in the Appalachian Mountains, and as can be expected has a long history. Historically, infusions of the plant were used by the Cherokee Indians as a gynecological aid, while peeled bark and twigs were rubbed onto areas affected by rheumatism. The fungal galls were used as an occasional food source, said to stave off thirst. First collected by famed French botanist, explorer and plant hunter Andre Michaux in 1795 from the Blue Ridge Mountains of our state, this species has a wide range of distribution from southern New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio as a northern limit, southward through the Appalachian mountains to northern Georgia.

This species is an important parent of many deciduous azalea hybrids. The genus name derives from the Greek words rhodo, which means rose, and dendron, meaning tree. The common name of flame azalea is in refer

ence to the resemblance of the upright flower buds to candle flames. The thin, gray-brown bark is showy and adds winter interest in the garden with its finely shredded appearance.

If you want to enjoy this spectacular ecosystem friendly eye-candy in your landscape, plant it in full sun to partial or deep shade with moist, well-drained, acidic, loamy or sandy soil. It does not tolerate dense clay so ame

nd with organic material if necessary. Protect from afternoon sun, which can scorch the leaves. Rabbit browsing is tolerated well, so that’s a bonus.

Be patient as this plant is slow to establish, but is ideal to add some bright, warm spring color in a woodland or naturalized landscape. Use it as a specimen or plant it in groups for a shrub border or even as a hedge. Add it to a pollinator garden where it will attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.

To find out more about this amazing native plant, contact me at or your local county’s N.C. Cooperative Extension agent.