Wild Deciduous Azaleas
- The dozen or more varieties of Rhodendron comprising wild azaleas have several characteristics in common. All are deciduous, as are native azalea varieties growing on the Pacific coast and as far north as Quebec. Nearly all flourish in average-to-dry soil under the forest canopy, except for a very few varieties favoring wetter or swampy ground. All are characterized by the smaller petals and elongated stamens that gained them the nickname "bush honeysuckle." All varieties, by their strong resemblance to each other and tolerance of similar growth conditions, have confused those seeking exact identification for many years.
Southern Native Azaleas
- Over a dozen wild azalea varieties do well in the hardiness zones shared by the Ozark and Smoky Mountains, the coolest of which is USDA zone 6a. Flowers range from whites with yellow accents or pink shading to strong reds, oranges and yellows. Descriptions suggest that purple tones enter the wild azalea palette in cooler growing areas; they are not typical of southern native azaleas. Plants tolerate full sun to partial shade.
- Different sources offer different distinctions between native azaleas originating in Arkansas and wild azaleas growing well in Arkansas. R. canescens, also called the honeysuckle azalea, is claimed by some growers as an Arkansas native, as is the swamp azalea R. viscosum, Both varieties have white to white-pink flowers. The University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service adds R. alabamense (in spite of the Alabama descriptor), R. arborescens or sweet azalea, and flame azaleas, R. calendulaceum, to its list of native recommendations, thus expanding both the color and fragrance range of native azaleas.
- Lists of Arkansas native wild azaleas tend to be inclusive rather than exclusive, noting that different varieties with shared needs may grow in close proximity or across a broad band of hospitable geography. The Texas azalea, R. oblongifolium, and Alabama azalea, R. alabamense, may therefore be found in Arkansas as well as the states for which they were named. R. canescens, claimed by Arkansas, appears in the Georgia Piedmont and the Carolinas. The botanical equivalent of Southern hospitality creates confusion about exact varieties in specific locations, but the beauty and diversity of wild native azaleas makes untangling the confusion a pleasure rather than a chore.