Thirty Years With Our Native Azaleas
By S. D. Coleman, Fort Gaines, Ga.
This is my 30th year in the Nursery Business. A good nurseryman should be prepared to answer many questions, pertaining to this business, and it takes quite a bit of study as well as observation. Advanced science in all fields takes the combined minds or forces of many. In fact the fine collection and study of the native species of azaleas on Coleman's Native Azalea Trail has been the result of a number of friends and of course my son Dan, Jr. and son-in-law Frank Gilreath.
One of the many questions asked is, where did the Azalea calendulacea get its name? The plant was named for its likeness in color of flower to the plant Calendula. The Calendula is an annual of the marigold family, which has flowers ranging in color from yellow to orange. Also the word calendula means "long period," and individual plants of A. calendulacea will bloom out, but others will take its place, thus giving a "long period" of bloom.
There is about one month's difference in blooming time in moving a plant from the mountains to my place in South West Georgia where it blooms earlier. There has been much talk about color change in this plant after moving. The fact is the flower of a plant would change color if you saw this same plant in the mountains at a later date. Flowers change from flame to orange yellow. There is a nice range of color in the flowers of A. calendulacea, some plants will be light yellow others are orange, others are flame, there are a few reds. Actually the true reds are mostly among the late types. Plants having flame colored flowers have been given the common name "Flame Azalea," two other species have gone under this name, Azalea bakeri and A. speciosa. It is in A. calendulacea "flame" that we find a change of color that has given cause for the question, regarding change of color due to moving of plants. Actually moving has nothing to do with this change, but in many cases the flame colored blooms will change to orange color as the flowers age. This change results into very beautiful plants, having flowers of both flame and orange color at the same time. A thought, the true red could have picked up this pigment from A. bakeri.
We are told that A. calendulacea has both types, diploids (26 chromosomes) and polyploids (52 chromosomes), from observation the polyploids are the larger flower types. Now the question is why? Plants of closely related species or varieties that cross naturally bring on chemical changes. On the Blue Ridge Parkway, going north from Craggy Mountain, we found one nice plant of Azalea arborescens, blooming at the same time with A. calendulacea, all around this plant for quite a space were many semi-doubles and near doubles of A. calendulacea, and not from the same clone, as the variation in color was about the same as found in this species. In observing the different species over many years you run into this in other species.
Select strains of yellow of no relation should be crossed. This could be done in all of the species, and colors. In nature inbreeding is quite common, and plays an important part in the resulting flowers. This is where we get most of our smaller flowers. Of course man has had much to do with this, selecting the finer plants, leaving the smaller flower type plants to carry on. He also has had much to do with the mixing of the species, by clearing up, burning and moving the natural separations of the different species, there is no fault to find in the new types and forms, most of them are beautiful. I have looked for and brought in many of the freaks of nature. In the mixing of genes the first chemical change takes place in the embryo, thereafter it is carried on by the foliage, and in the seed from these plants the change continues to get larger. It is strange that some natural hybrids are smaller flowered plants than either of their parents, as a rule plants take on what is known as hybrid vigor. Some of these natural hybrids never have seed pods.
My study and work has been with the living plants, in the wild and with those brought to the Trail to grow on as nature would have them.