Wildflower Week: Tuesday: Azaleas

April 26th, 2011
Native Azaleas

Rhododendron periclymenoides aka Pinxterbloom

Rhododendron periclymenoides or Pinxterbloom? Neither one is a very attractive name if you ask me. All azaleas belong to the genus Rhododendron, and periclymenoides means honeysuckle-like. But Pinxterbloom? Because it’s pink? That would have been my guess and it would have been wrong. According to the Sierra Club Potomac’s Hiker’s Notebook:

The term is of Dutch origin as a shortened form of Pinxter blomachee which translates roughly as blossoming on the Pentecost. The religious protestant Dutch settlers of the Hudson River Valley noted that the flower reached full bloom near the date of this very important Christian Church festival.

In central Virginia, however, they bloom in April. These grow in several places in our woods. Those near the back of the lot (furthest south, hmm) always bloom first. About 10 days ago, I took a photo of the first flower – on a tall plant, over my head.

Native Azalea, Rhododendron periclymenoides

Azaleas over my head

With the recent heat wave, the flowers aren’t lasting long. The flowers below (different plant than above) are already starting to fade. They’re probably in the sunniest location of any we have and began blooming late last week.

Native Azalea, Rhododendron periclymenoides

Native Azalea, Rhododendron periclymenoides

We noticed a dark swallowtail butterfly repeatedly nectaring on that plant a few days ago, but didn’t get close enough for a positive ID. I’ve read that hummingbirds migrate northward with the blooming of azaleas, but I’ve never seen a hummingbird near these flowers. Nevertheless, several websites mention Pinxterbloom as a hummingbird nectar source and it may be true so I’ll keep watching. I know the hummingbirds are back because one buzzed me a couple days ago when I was wearing an orange sweatshirt.

Rhododendron periclymenoides isn’t the only native azalea, although it’s the only one at Tangled Branches South. If you’re lucky enough to find native azaleas and need help identifying them, Donald Hyatt has written a good online guide to East Coast species.

Rhododendron periclymenoides

Rhododendron periclymenoides

This is my second contribution to Clay and Limestone’s Wildflower Week. Tomorrow is the monthly Wildflower Wednesday there, and here at Tangled Branches we’ll be discussing the question “Wild or Cultivated?”.

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