Azaleas: The Royalty of the Garden

For the last two months, azaleas have been blooming like crazy on St. Simons Island.  Every yard has these plants which are part of the rhododendron family.  Every garden is showy with their riotous blooms.  Across the street from Fort Frederica, the Wesley Memorial Gardens highlight the beauty and variety of the abundant blossoms.  Everywhere we look, we exclaim, “Wow!  Look at those azaleas!”

Azaleas are called “the royalty of the garden” because of the profusion of their flowers and their adaptability to many different conditions.  The flowers on St. Simons Island are Rhododendron Azalea (deciduous), but within that designation, there are thousands of cultivars.  The colors range from white to the deepest scarlet.  Their height can be anywhere from ground cover to 10 feet tall.

Tom and I had some azalea bushes in Mogadore but their blooms were tiny compared to the azaleas here.  The only things these flowers need to grow are shade and plenty of water.  They love living under the live oak trees here.  The mild winters mean that they begin blooming in February and don’t stop until April.

I can’t seem to stop taking pictures of the Rhododendron Azalea.  Here are some pictures so you can appreciate their beauty too.

The flowers are beautiful, but they are also highly toxic – don’t eat them!  The azalea contains andromedotoxins in both its leaves and nectar.  Azaleas and rhododendrons were once so infamous for their toxicity that receiving a bouquet of their flowers in a black vase was a well-known death threat.  

There are azalea festivals all over Asia and the southern United States, usually sometime in March.  Fortunately they bloom longer than cherry blossoms, so the festival planners don’t have to worry about their dates.  If you love the “royalty of the garden” as much as I do, you might want to check out the web page of the American Rhododendron Society.