What Wildflower Begins Blooming This Week? (May week 3)

This week, I’m featuring Early Azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum) as one of our local wildflowers that begins to bloom at this time.

PLEASE NOTE:  New York Protected Status:  Exploitably Vulnerable = Native plants likely to become threatened in the near future throughout all or a significant portion of their ranges within the State if causal factors continue unchecked.  Fragmentation of remaining habitat, contamination of the gene pool, and wild harvesting present ongoing threats to this species.

Identification Tips:

Early Azalea is a multi-stemmed shrub, with picturesque, ascending branches that form an upright rounded shrub and grows to 3-8 feet tall.  Bark of the main stem is dark gray, often becoming scaly with small plates.  Twigs are densely and often minutely hairy, reddish brown, becoming brown to dark gray.  This azalea is exceptionally cold hardy and can withstand temperatures as low as -25°F.

Leaves are blue-green, elliptical and alternate, but tend to be clustered near the branch tips.  Leaf blades are 1-1/2 to 3-1/2 inches long and half that wide, ovate shaped, with entire margins; they are sparsely hairy on both surfaces and the main veins of the undersurface are densely hairy.

Early Azalea

Light pink, funnel-shaped flowers with protruding stamens occur in large clusters of 4-12 blossoms, appearing before or with the leaves.  The blooms of Early Azalea provide a delightful spicy fragrance and a stunning floral display.  The exterior of the blooms are covered with thin down and gland-tipped hairs from which its fragrance emerges.

Early Azalea

Flowers wither to sparsely to densely glandular-hairy covered capsules about ½ inch long and less than ¼ inch wide, and narrowly oblong to cylindrical in shape.

Culinary and Medicinal Uses:

CAUTION!  All parts of this plant are highly toxic due to the presence of andromedotoxin and may be fatal if ingested.

Wildlife Value:

Nectar from the flowers attracts Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) and Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus).  Azalea Miner (Andrena cornelli, which is the only Andrena bee to visit azaleas) collects the pollen from these flowers.

Due to the bitterness and toxicity of its foliage, no known animals browse from this plant.

Where Found Locally:

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