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Journal American Rhododendron Society

Current Editor:
Dr. Glen Jamieson ars.editor@gmail.com


Volume 37, Number 1
Winter 1983

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The Last Frontier
George Beasley, Lavonia, Georgia

       Native azaleas in the Southeast constitute the greatest un-appraised mass of beauty in America. While countless number of people are seeking and finding rare and unusual forms, their total efforts barely scratch the surface.
       Too much energy is expended in classification and not enough in honest appraisal of the natives as potential garden subjects. Southern native azaleas have practiced promiscuity for millions of years and are still doing so. Trying to sort these plants into neat little niches called species is about as frustrating as trying to single handly sort the U.S. Mail. Our best aid to the riddle of native hybrid parentage is our own hybridizing program. We have been able to duplicate wild hybrids in our own crosses. If we just knew that the parents we're using were true species, we would be getting somewhere.
       Our main concerns will always be beauty and utility, not lineage. At this point the reader should be safe in assuming that this will not be a technical treatise on native flora.
       Millions of native seedlings appear in the wild each year. Competition for space, light, and moisture limit survival to an infinitesimal number. In the Climax Type forests of North Georgia, quality of bloom seems directly proportional to the degree of disturbance of the over-story by man, or God, or both. Once light is admitted, bloom becomes abundant. Power line right-of-ways, road banks, and borders of clearings turn into display gardens featuring plants that have never bloomed before. Native azaleas are not plants of the dark places but, like most of us, enjoy a spot in the sun.
       Color in native azaleas is highly variable. Altitude, temperature and light intensity all contribute to the shades and hues of their flowers. High altitude material invariably becomes paler when grown at lower altitudes. "Abnormal" hot spells during the blooming season always lightens colors two to four shades. Virtually all natives go through a color change in the opening process and the vast majority of blooms grow lighter as they unfold. We have selected several forms of calendulaceum, bakeri, and hybrids that undergo a reverse metamorphosis. One clone in particular, that we call "Joseph's Coat" opens yellow, turns orange and then red. Trusses show the entire yellow-red spectrum. If one saw a typical truss on this plant on five successive days, one could label it a fine yellow, a lovely orange or a rich red. Color photographs are a great aid in publicizing the glory of the natives, but show only part of their beauty. It is difficult to photograph the backside of a rainbow.
       Finding good natives is one thing. Rooting cuttings from them is another. Eight years ago I discovered a superior bakeri, not blooming but bleeding, on a mountainside in North Georgia. The plant was undernourished so, needless to say, I brought the poor thing home with me. This special plant is the finest red I have ever seen. It has all the virtues one would seek - good plant form, thick glowing foliage, and large flowers that are the color of healthy blood. My wife Mary is a persistent propagator. For seven years she has tried to root this red. Failures have only deepened her determination. This year at last she has succeeded. Fortunately, all natives are not this difficult.

red flowered R. bakeri    R. bakeri x R. arborescens
red R. bakeri
photo by George Beasley
   R. bakeri x R. arborescens
photo by George Beasley

       Yellows are my favorites. We are building a stock of one of the best yellows we have seen in a lifetime. Our minister, Richard Bielski, is a big man, both in body and in spirit. On one of our plant hunting expeditions he discovered this plant blooming at his eye level, one strata above mine. It appears to be pure calendulaceum. Flowers are clear yellow, flat faced, and measure 3 to 3 inches across the petal tips. This plant has been named "Richard Bielski" and will be released as soon as adequate stock of plants can be accumulated.

R. 'Richard Bielski'
R. 'Richard Bielski'
photo by George Beasley

       Our finest seedling from our controlled crosses is a lovely yellow. The parentage of this beauty is (Choptank C-1 x Gold Austrinum). It has more than I had hoped for - beauty, charm, good tough leaves, good plant form, hardiness and strong pleasing fragrance. It is rootable and therefore a candidate for release. Only one name seemed adequate for this fine plant. "My Mary" was the choice. Normally a husband should be able to expect some small credit for naming an azalea for his wife, but as always, I blew it. In the plant description I stated that the plant grows as broad as tall!

R. 'My Mary'
R. 'My Mary'
photo by George Beasley

       Mary and I are very fortunate people. Our son Jeff and his bride to be, Lisa, will be joining us in our operation as soon as they complete their formal horticultural training. They will not continue our work, but will go beyond and above what we have been able to accomplish.
       The LAST FRONTIER is an ever changing challenge to lovers of natives - so much to see - so little time in a lifetime - but so much joy in one day of discovery.
       Come to North Georgia next June. The woods are full of beautiful natives, and I'm just talking about the azaleas.


Volume 37, Number 1
Winter 1983

DLA Ejournal Home | JARS Home | Table of Contents for this issue | Search JARS and other ejournals