Native Rhododendrons and Hybrids in My Garden
by S. D. Coleman, Fort Gaines, Ga.
I would like to make note of some of my thoughts regarding three of our most beautiful native azalea species, namely, (1) Azalea arborescens, which is almost tree-like. I have seen plants on mountain streams that were twenty feet high, (2) Azalea alabamense, named for the state of Alabama, the location where is was first identified as a species, (3) Azalea bakeri, named for Dr. W. B. Baker, at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia.
I find that plants of A. arborescens fall into three general types; the type species, the Richardsoni type and the Southern type. Generally, the type species (tree-type) is found in the eastern portion of the arborescens area. The Richardsoni variety is mostly found in the western portion, and the Southern form is found mostly in North Georgia.
The type plant of A. arborescens is tree-like, and is found growing along stream banks in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. The flowers of this plant perfume the air with fragrance, even more so than either of the other two types. The foliage of all three when pressed or bruised has a fragrance. This is a good key to the identification of A. arborescens. A. alabamense also has both fragrant foliage and flowers. I believe the tree-type as listed as A. arborescens and found in South West Georgia to be A. alabamense.
All three forms of A. arborescens have beautiful flowers, but so far as I have been able to judge, the tree type is the one that in some instances gives very large sized flowers and in rare instances you may find the flowers with yellow blotches.
In moving A. arborescens many years pass before it blooms again. I have one plant on the "Trail" that was transplanted more than fifteen years ago which will bloom this spring for the first time. This plant has grown beautifully, being possibly six feet high and having a spread of about four feet. In another setting on the "Trail" I brought in five blooming-size plants as they were, and it took five years for the first one to bloom. All five plants are growing beautifully and I am very anxious for them all to bloom as one plant is of the large flower type.
The Southern type can be seen at the Ida Cason Callaway Gardens, Pine Mountain, Georgia, blooming at the same time as A. prunifolia. I do not have the Southern type on the "Trail" for close study.
While in the mountains in areas where A. bakeri and A. arborescens grow and bloom at the same time, choose a doubtful plant and bruise or crush the foliage and if it is related to A. arborescens it will have fragrance.
Azalea alabamense already mentioned, is the other species haying both fragrant flowers and fragrant foliage, and sometimes when bringing in a dormant plant without foliage you will get the fragrance in the car from the woody stems or branches. Here again, it seems that the taller, or tree-types, are the most fragrant. A. alabamense is a species of many variations.
The A. alabamense is described as being a plant found in North Alabama. This is a small plant with small flowers and is stoloniferous. A. alabamense was later found in Middle Alabama, and I have found it growing near the Florida line. Here in South West Georgia I have found plants that are most beautiful, and are not stoloniferous; however, after the land has been burned over they become compact and form many branched plants originating from the old root stock. These plants in South West Georgia are a much finer flowering type and can be arranged or grouped into three fairly distinct classes; the high and dry hillside and middle terrace form, the tall variety and the low country type. All three have about the same color combinations of white, white with pink border, white with pink border and yellow blotch on upper lobe, pink, pink with yellow blotch on upper lobe, and a rare cream or a yellow.
Each variety of A. alabamense has its own beauty, most of them have excellent flowers, some are upright in growth, some are willowy, and others are bushy. As a rule they begin to bloom just after A. canescens, along with A. austrina and A. speciosa, and extend over quite a long season. The last to bloom being mostly the tall or tree-type. It is generally classed as an early bloomer, although some plants will bloom midseason.
I have many natural hybrids of A. alabamense on the "Trail." It possibly could be that the type plant as found in North Alabama may have picked up genes of the A. montana, which is stoloniferous. This little plant (A. montana) is viscose and has been mixing freely with A. viscosa. When A. alabamense hybridizes with A. canescens you can detect this by the slight pubescens on the winter buds, and there are other distinguishing features such as fragrance of flower or foliage. On the "Trail" are natural hybrids of A austrina. A. aemulans, A. canescens, and possibly more species have mixed in to give variety and beauty. I sometimes think that the low land species is most beautiful, but walking further and seeing the hill side form in its full glory is breath taking. Add to this the many variations provided by hybridization and you've seen beauty as only nature can provide. Friends who visit the "Trail" and comment on this beauty add much joy to my life.
I have named one of these natural hybrids, a plant I might say, that has picked up genes of A. austrina, having similar wood and foliage, a nice sized flower of white with a tinge of pink, and having the fragrance of A. alabamense. It will be called Azalea 'Virginia Callaway' in honor of one of the builders of the famous Ida Cason Callaway Gardens. Mr. and Mrs. Cason Callaway are building one of the largest botanical gardens in America at Pine Mountain, Georgia. The native species of azaleas being an important part in the plantings. They also have at their home in Hamilton, Georgia the finest collection of Azalea prunifolia known, mixed with the Southern type of A. arborescens. (This three mile Trail is private.)
A. arborescens is a mountain plant, and A. alabamense is a southern plant, both classed as whites. The mountain plant may bloom further north, but I would class the southern plant as hard to beat as a flowering shrub with a delightful fragrance.
A. bakeri was named for Dr. Baker at Emery University by Mr. W. P. Lemmon. The type plant was located in North Georgia. At a later date apparently the same form was found near Cumberland, Kentucky and named A. cumberlandense. My observations of plants brought in from many locations, although variations are noted, leads me to believe that they are all of the same species. A. bakeri has a beautiful range of color, reds to many shades between red to yellow. This species seemingly mixes or hybridizes with other species more frequently than A. calendulacea. As a rule the species is a slow grower. When hybridized with the Richardsoni type of A. arborescens we get the pink, pink with yellow blotch, or white with yellow blotch, and all having the fragrant foliage of A. arborescens.
Fig. 17. R. calendulaceum
Fig. 18. R. carolinianum in the Society
garden, Crystal Springs Island.
Cecil Smith photo
In South West Georgia A. bakeri blossoms just ahead of A. prunifolia. It is very likely that my yellow A. arborescens has genes of A. bakeri. After a few years growth I will know if this is true.