Unknown Deciduous Azalea
resembles 'Mount Saint Helens'
"For to the bee a flower is a fountain if life
To the flower a bee is a messenger of love."
Often a nursery will have something that has either lost its label or never was labeled adequately. This deciduous azalea did have the wholesaler's tag attached, but it did not name the cultivar. It cost next to nothing, & was labeled only "Hybrid Flame Azalea," as though even the grower was puzzled.
To call it "Hybrid Flame Azalea" is rather generic designation since Exbury cultivars are derived in the main from Rhododendron calendulaceum, the Appalachian Mountains' native Flame Azalea. But no individual hybrid is named "Flame Azalea."
When this mysterious azalea first opens its bright buds, the large frilly flowers are the brightest possible coral-pink with yellow-tangerine throat, as brilliantly colored as a hybrid called 'Spicy Lights.'
The blooms last the entirety of May, swelling bigger & bigger until they hide the shrub, by which time they are no longer quite so excessively gaudy in coloration, but are a paler salmon-pink, with the upper throat remaining dark yellow.
The first picture above from early May (2002) shows the bright new-blossom color, & the picture here at the right shows the same blossoms swollen & paler late in May.
In addition to changing color as May progresses, the flowers are also quite varied from year to year. Some years the orange dorsal blotch is large, sometimes subdued; some years the blooms achieve a rich salmon pink, some years they are more of a pale rose. Other photos can be seen on the 'Mount Saint Helens' page of the Rhodies & Azaleas Blossoms Gallery.
The leaves are a bright shiny green fluffed or quilted in appearance, & turn purple in autumn. The third photo is from Autumn 2001, showing the pleasing leaf coloration. Some even cooler photos of the colorful leaves can be viewed on the 'Mount St Helens' Page along the Autumn Azalea garden walk.
The puffy leaves suggest R. cumberlandense (formerly R. bakeri) as part of its hybridization, which would indeed match 'Mount Saint Helens,' although that cultivar leans from coral to yellow rather than from coral to orange. It also resembles the popular but redder 'Gibralter,' but that isn't nearly close enough.
So for now I just call this one "Similar To 'Mount Saint Helens' Azalea." If you recognize it specifically let me know!
Exbury azaleas tend to be six feet tall at ten years, though if this is a Knaphill-Girard 'Mount Saint Helens,' it could well stay smaller. Someone vastly more expert than I might be able to name it immediately, but there is enough variety in the shades of deciduous azaleas that I may never see one blooming so exactly the same shade that I'll know for sure what this one is. Additionally, it could well be an unregistered random hybrid so that my "Similar To" designation will have to remain.
It wasn't hard to guess its needs, at least. Such large-bloomed deciduous azaleas require some shade because they are sensitive to heat & windburn. They especially need their roots protected from direct sun; this one's roots are protected by a groundcover of Indian Strawberry (Duchesnea indica) as can be seen in the third photo.
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