Hot mid-summer days bring the arrival of quantities of showy pruneleaf azalea blossoms. Click to download a large (800x600) version of this image.
Plumleaf azalea blooms with spectacularly showy flowers in mid to late summer - later than any other North American wild azalea. Flower colors are variable between shrubs, and may be salmon pink, orange or crimson red. The individual flowers are funnel shaped, with a tube about 2 in (5 cm) long, and an opening almost 2 in (5 cm) across. They are borne in clusters of 5-8. The pistil and five stamens are very long, extending 2-3 in (5-7.5 cm) beyond the petals. The flowers are not fragrant. Plumleaf azalea is a deciduous shrub that gets 10-15 ft (3-4.5 m) high with a spread of 6-8 ft (1.8-2.4 m). The leaves are completely hairless and 2-4 in (5-10 cm) long. The buds for next season's flowers are already formed when the plant is in bloom. There are several named selections with distinctive flower colors available in the trade.
Location Rhododendron prunifolium has a very small geographic distribution, occurring naturally only in southwestern Georgia and southeastern Alabama. It is usually found in forested, sandy ravines along streams that drain towards the Chattahoochee River. The most famous stands of this gorgeous rhododendron are at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia.
Culture Light: Plumleaf azalea does best with morning sun and afternoon shade. The warmer the summers, the more important that afternoon shade becomes. Plumleaf azalea can even be grown in near complete shade, but it probably won't bloom as profusely. Moisture: Like the other southeastern American rhododendrons, plumleaf azalea likes a moist, sandy, acidic soil. The soil should not be allowed to completely dry out. Never add lime. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5-9. Although plumleaf azalea can be grown in zone 5, it performs best further south. Propagation: Plumleaf azalea can be grown from seed collected after allowing the capsules to dry on the plant. Young, fast growing stem tip cuttings taken in spring can be started in moist sand. Semi-ripe cuttings can be rooted in autumn.
The pruneleaf azalea is most happy growing in semi-shady woodland situations.
Plumleaf azalea belongs in a woodland garden, perhaps along a creek or semi-shaded pathway. Plant two or three under a big live oak, or some tall pines. Blooming in July, after so many flowering shrubs have petered out, plumleaf azalea is very welcome in the garden. This is a favorite native azalea!
There are literally thousands of named rhododendron species, varieties, hybrids and cultivars. Various species occur in North America, Europe, Asia (especially India, Burma, Tibet and southwestern China), and even in New Guinea. Some are trees to 100 ft (30 m) tall, some are ground creepers less than a foot (30 cm) tall, and some are even epiphytic on other plants. Many are fabulous ornamentals, cherished by gardeners everywhere. The Royal Horticultural Society Dictionary of Gardening devotes 48 pages of very small type to the Rhododendron genus!
Luckily, plumleaf azalea, although of limited natural distribution, is readily available in nurseries.