QBARS - v27n1 On the Azalea Inferiority Complex and Rhododendronitis

On the Azalea Inferiority Complex and Rhododendronitis
Franklin H. West, M.D., Gladwyne, PA

Here in the Eastern United States, I have detected unmistakable symptoms of two relatively unmentioned maladies. One of them results from a chauvinistic attitude of rhododendron growers. I have named it the Azalea Inferiority Complex and would like to share with you some of the evidence of this unfortunate injustice.
Azaleas are regarded as too common, too easy, and not at all challenging to grow. They seem to thrive on neglect in naturally acid soil areas.
Rhododendron growers, although they admit that azaleas are rhododendrons, tend to treat them as an inferior minority not equal to or worthy of the same degree of interest or affection as rhododendrons.
Chapter rating and awards committees show this unconscionable prejudice by giving ratings and awards only to rhododendrons. Only one evergreen azalea has received an award from the American Rhododendron Society, ('Desiree', P. A., 1960). Only a few deciduous azaleas have awards, yet hundreds of rhododendrons have been given significant awards. As a result, our American Rhododendron Society has not given nurserymen and the general public the guidance and leadership regarding azaleas that it has given for rhododendrons.
All is not lost, however! In spite of this prejudice, injustice, and neglect, the azaleas have not thrown in the towel and quit on us! They continue to produce a reliably brilliant profusion of blooms every spring in a greater color range, and over a longer blooming season than rhododendrons.
Their ease of culture, floriferousness, compact symmetry, ability to thrive on neglect, and compatibility with other shrubs have won them far greater acceptance by the general public, which uses them far more often in the Eastern United States in foundation plantings and in the general landscape than rhododendrons.
The Philadelphia Chapter's azalea study committee appointed in 1961 by our late president, Ray Jefferis, gathered the views of many eastern growers of evergreen azaleas, and published them in the January, 1964 Quarterly, and again in "Rhododendron Information" in 1968. These efforts did not ease the sting of the inferiority complex, however, and remedial efforts will have to be taken by every Chapter in the A.R.S. before this illness can be ameliorated and eventually eradicated.
As a supplement to these studies, and in order to establish the identity of the most outstanding and popular evergreen azaleas, I have counted every mention of evergreen azalea varieties in the Quarterly since 1960, plus the recommended sorts in the second edition of F. P. Lee's Azalea book. These were combined with our previously published ratings. The following tabulation lists eighty of the most frequently praised azaleas, in six color groups over three seasons of bloom, including fourteen varieties marked with an asterisk that are highly deserving of A.R.S. awards. They are listed in order of their popularity in each group. No doubt there are even finer sorts than these not yet widely enough grown to make this list. Varieties such as: 'Beethoven', 'Emblem', 'Eureka', 'Fairy Bells', 'Fedora', 'Flanders Field', 'Gracious', 'Gypsy', 'H. H. Hume', 'Helen Curtis', 'Indian Summer', 'Johann Strauss', 'Joseph Gable', 'Marian Lee', 'Mayflower', 'Merritt #23', 'Miss Susie', 'Modesty', 'Naomi', 'Ohio', 'Othello', 'Polar Bear', and 'Sun Valley' received individual rave notices and have the potential for greater popularity.
Some relief for the Azalea Inferiority Complex could come if every Chapter's awards committee would review these fourteen proposed award varieties, add or subtract as experience indicates, and submit them to the A.R.S. for award recognition. If all the eastern chapters would join in the effort, the resulting award winners will reflect the widest possible popularity and will represent the consensus of the greatest number of growers in zones 6, 7, and 8. Such an accolade will end any threat this disease poses to our plants.

80 of the Best Evergreen Azaleas - Six Colors for Three Seasons
(Summary of Published Eastern Opinions from Zones 6b to 3a, 1960-72)
EARLY (April 15 - May 5) 1 MIDSEASON (May 5 - 20) 1 LATE (May 20- June 30) 1
I. White
1.* Rose Greely (G) m, hh 1.* Mucronatum Del Valley White (SP) m, s 1. Gumpo (S) 1, s
2. Palestrina (K) t, s 2. Angela Place (GD) 1, s
3.* Polaris (G) m, d 2.* Glacier (GD) m, s 3.* Everest (GD) m, s
4. Cygnet (GD) 1, s 3. Treasure (GD) m, s 4. Safrano (GD) m, s
5. Snow (K) m, hh 4. Helen Close (GD) 1, s 5. Swansong (GD) m, s
5. Polar Sea (GD) m, s 6. Wavelet (GD) m, s
II. White (variegated striped, blotched, bordered)
1.* Geisha (GD) m, s 1. Martha Hitchcock (GD) t,s 1. Jindai (S) 1, s
2. Delight (GD) m. s 2. Surprise (GD) m, s 2. Gyokushin (S) 1, s
3. Capella (GD) m, hh 3. Mucronatum "Magnifica" (SP) m, s 3. Kingetsu (S) 1,s
4. George Lindley Tabor
(SI) m, s
5. Boldface (GD) 1, s
III. Orange Red or Orange Pink
1. Mary Dalton (G) t, hh 1.* Stewartstonian (G) 1, s 1.* Beni Kirishima (S) m, d
2. Addy Wery (K) t, s 2. Greeting (GD) m, s 2. Copperman (GD) t, s
3. Ballet Girl (GD) m, hh 3. Fashion (GD) m, hh 3. Balsamineaflora (S) 1,d
4. Ambrosia (GD) t, s 4. Red Bird (GD) m, s 4. J. T. Lovett (S) m, s
5. Coral Bells (K) m, hh 5. Buccaneer (GD) m, s
IV. Rose Red
1. Campfire (G) m, hh 1.* Elizabeth Gable (G) m,s 1. Aztec (GD) 1, s
2. Red Progress (K) m, s 2. Dragon (GD) m, s 2. Mai Hime (S) 1, s
3. Hino Crimson (K) m, s 3. Glamour (GD) t, s 3. Pearl Bradford (GD) 1,s
4. James Gable (G) m, hh 4. Sherwood Red (K) m, s
5. Margie (G) m, hh
6. Carmen (K) t, s
V. Violet Pink
1.* Springtime (G) t, s 1.* Rosebud (G) m, d 1. Sagittarius (GD) 1, s
2.* Dream (GD) m, s 2.* Louise Gable (G) m, d 2. Lillie Maude (GD) m, s
3. Dayspring (GD) m, s 3. Lorna (G) m, d 3. Cameo (G) t, d
4. Guy Yerkes (K) m, hh 4. Gaiety (GD) m, s 4. Crinoline (GD) m, s
5. Eleanor Allen (K) m, s 5. Prudence (GD) l, s
6. Grace Freeman (GD) m, s
7. Aphrodite (GD) m, s
VI. Violet Purple
1.* Herbert (G) m, hh 1. Zulu (GD) m, s 1. Sarabande (GD) 1, s
2. Big Joe (G) t, s 2. Muscadine (GD) m, s 2. Chanticleer (GD) m, s
3. Mildred Mae (G) m, s 3. Purple Splendor (G) m, hh 3. Dauntless (GP) l, s
4. Sherwood Orchid (K) m, s
(G) Gable l - low, under 3 feet
(GD) Glenn Dale m- medium, 3 - 5 feet
(K) Kurume or Kaempferi t -tall, over 5 feet
(S) Satsuki d - double or semi-double
(SD) Southern Indian s- single
(SP) Species Clone hh - hose in hose
* Deserving of nomination for ARS award.
1 Blooming dates at Philadelphia

The other disorder I have encountered is much less curable than the Azalea Inferiority Complex. It is commonly called Rhododendronitis. My study so far suggests that it is well nigh incurable, whether one grows azaleas, rhododendrons, or both! What leads people to succumb to this malady? Some of the motive factors arise from various combinations of the following:

  • The big return one gets on a small investment. From a free twig, one can grow a bush worth $25-$50 in ten years.
  • The great aesthetic pleasure from the rich variety of colors, forms, fragrances, and textures of the flowers, leaves, and plants. This pleasure comes both from admiring and indirectly from being admired.
  • The gratification that comes from the partial satisfaction of the collecting mania - the wealth of possession. With so many thousands of clones to choose from, one's appetite is hardly ever fully sated.
  • The artistic fulfillment which comes from decorating the landscape pleasingly with plants of great beauty that require the least care and maintenance of all cultivated plants.
  • A creative satisfaction which may come from growing enough of one's own hybrids to produce one significantly better plant.
  • As an outlet for aggressive energy: These plants love to be controlled and dominated. They love to be moved around. You can clip them, chop them, or destroy them without getting into trouble with the law.
  • As a partial replacement or substitution for the parental role and of the wish to have one's children and grandchildren close at hand.
  • The escape afforded by these plants from back talk (as long as they look healthy) ; they afford us relief from the every day pressures of life and work.
  • The satisfaction of maintaining physical fitness. Gardening is a much more productive exercise than jogging! The fulfillment of competitive desires in shows and exhibits, and by having something no one else has but everyone wants.
  • The enjoyment of service to others by way of sharing our plants, opinions, and experiences.
  • The pleasure of creating a natural looking environment favorable to growing native ferns, wild flowers, bulbs, and attractive to birds and other wildlife.

With all these delights, who would ever want to be cured of such a malady as this? However, Rhododendronitis is responsible for the Azalea Inferiority Complex, and we do need your help in stamping it out. Please influence your Chapter to propose at least ten azaleas for awards so that next year they will be able to bloom with honored self-esteem as well as with their usual dazzling beauty.