Friday, May 27, 2016

Flower Friday: Swamp azalea is Florida's only summer-blooming rhododendron.

Swamp azalea blooming in Ocala National Forest.
Photo by Stacey Matrazzo
Swamp azalea (Rhododendron viscosum)
Click on terms for botanical definitions.

Swamp azalea is a long-lived perennial shrub to small tree. Its fragrant white blooms are often tinged with pink. The long corolla is tubular and covered in sticky, gland-tipped hairs. It opens into five lobes, exposing five conspicuous stamens that extend well beyond the corolla. The deciduous leaves are elliptic, pubescent and alternately arranged.

Swamp azalea occurs naturally in wet flatwoods, seep and bay swamps and along lake margins. It flowers late spring through summer after the leaves emerge. It is attractive to a variety of pollinators, including hummingbirds. Swamp azalea is Florida’s only white-flowered and summer-blooming rhododendron.

The genus Rhododendron comes from the Greek rhodon, or “rose,” and dendron, or “tree.” The species viscosum refers to the viscous glands on the corolla tube.

Family: Ericaceae (Heath family)
Native range: Panhandle, North and Central Florida
To see where natural populations of swamp azalea have been vouchered, visit www.florida.plantatlas.usf.edu.
Hardiness: 8a-9b
Soil: Moist to wet, organic soil
Exposure: Filtered shade
Growth habit: 4-6’+ tall, often twice as wide
Propagation: Seeds, cuttings, layering
Garden tips: Swamp azalea may be difficult to establish in a home landscape as it requires moisture throughout the summer. Although shade-adapted, it can tolerate sunlight and does well in canopied areas with light gaps and on edges where it receives dappled sunlight. It is not salt tolerant.

Swamp azalea plants are often available from nurseries that specialize in Florida native plants. Visit www.plantrealflorida.org to find a nursery in your area.

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