By Liliana Usvat
In Chinese culture, the azalea is known as “thinking of home bush” (sixiang shu) and is immortalized in the poetry of Du Fu and is used to rich effect in contemporary stories such as by Taiwanese author Pai, Hsien-Yung.
The azalea is also one of the symbols of the city of São Paulo, in Brazil.
The rhododendron is the national flower of Nepal, where the flower is considered edible and enjoyed for its sour taste. The pickled flower can last for months and the flower juice is also marketed. The flower, fresh or dried, is added to fish curry in the belief that it will soften the bones. The juice of rhododendron flower is used to make a squash called burans(named after the flower)in the hilly regions of Uttarakhand. It is admired for its distinctive flavor and color
Some species of rhododendron are poisonous to grazing animals because of a toxin called grayanotoxin in their pollen and nectar. People have been known to become ill from eating honey made by bees feeding on rhododendron and azalea flowers. Xenophon described the odd behaviour of Greek soldiers after having consumed honey in a village surrounded by Rhododendron ponticum during the march of the Ten Thousand in 401 BC.
Pompey’s soldiers reportedly suffered lethal casualties following the consumption of honey made from Rhododendron deliberately left behind by Pontic forces in 67 BC during the Third Mithridatic War. Later, it was recognized that honey resulting from these plants has a slightly hallucinogenic and laxative effect.
In addition to being renowned for its beauty, the Azalea is also highly toxic—it contains andromedotoxins in both its leaves and nectar, including honey from the nectar. The Azalea and Rhododendron were once so infamous for their toxicity that to receive a bouquet of their flowers in a black vase was a well-known death threat.
Animal studies and in vitro research has identified possible anti-inflammatory and hepatoprotective activities which may be due to the antioxidant effects of flavonoids or other phenolic compounds and saponins the plant contains. Xiong et al. have found that the root of the plant is able to reduce the activity of NF-κB in rats.
Since azaleas and rhododendrons prefer shade, it behooves landscapers to choose a good shade tree to have growing near them. Will just any shade tree do? No! Azalea and rhododendron plants like acid soil and have shallow roots.
Mulching is an essential part of proper care for azalea bushes and rhododendrons. The roots of these shallow-rooted plants need the protection that mulch affords against extremes of heat and cold.
The best mulches for azaleas and rhododendrons are acidic mulches, such as pine straw (although, as I report in the following article, some experts now dispute some aspects of the concept “acidic mulches”).
Pruning azaleas and rhododendrons should be undertaken immediately after they finish blooming (usually June or July). Pruning the bushes later than that risks interfering with the development of next year’s buds. Begin by pruning off dead or injured branches, which could cause disease and insect problems in the future. Then prune back tall, gangly limbs shooting out of the top of the bush. This will promote a more attractive, compact shape.
Plant enthusiasts have selectively bred azaleas for hundreds of years. This human selection has produced over 10,000 different cultivars which are propagated by cuttings
Azalea seeds can also be collected and germinated.
Azaleas are native to several continents including Asia, Europe and North America. They are planted abundantly as ornamentals in the southeastern USA, southern Asia,and parts of southwest Europe.
According to azalea historian Fred Galle, in the United States, Azalea indica (in this case, the group of plants called Southern indicas) was first introduced to the outdoor landscape in the 1830s at the rice plantation Magnolia-on-the-Ashley in Charleston, South Carolina. Magnolia’s owner John Grimke Drayton imported the plants for use in his estate garden from Philadelphia, where they were grown only in greenhouses. With encouragement from Charles Sprague Sargent from Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, Magnolia Gardens was opened to the public in 1871, following the American Civil War. Magnolia is one of the oldest public gardens in America. Since the late nineteenth century, in late March and early April, thousands visit to see the azaleas bloom in their full glory.
Motoyama, Kochi also has a flower festival in which the blooming of Tsutsuji is celebrated and Tatebayashi, Gunma is famous for its Azalea Hill Park, Tsutsuji-ga-oka. Nezu Shrine in Bunkyo, Tokyo, holds a Tsutsuji Matsuri from early April until early May.
Sobaeksan, one of the 12 well-known Sobaek Mountains, lying on the border between Chungbuk Province and Gyeongbuk has a Royal Azalea (Rhododendron schlippenbachii) Festival held on May every year. Sobaeksan has an azalea colony dotted around Biro mountaintop, Gukmang and Yonwha early in May. When Royal azaleas have turned pink in the end of May, it looks like Sobaeksan wears a pink Jeogori(Korean traditional jacket). (Information from Dpt. of Culture & Tourism, Danyang-gun County Office)
Many cities in the United States have festivals in the spring celebrating the blooms of the azalea, including Hamilton, NJ; Mobile, Alabama; Jasper, Texas; Norfolk, Virginia; Wilmington, North Carolina (North Carolina Azalea Festival); Valdosta, Georgia; Palatka, Florida (Florida Azalea Festival); Pickens, South Carolina; Muskogee, Oklahoma, Stollysville, Ohio and Brookings, Oregon.
The Azalea Trail is a designated path, planted with azaleas in private gardens, through Mobile, Alabama.The Azalea Trail Run is an annual road running event held there in late March. Mobile, Alabama is also home to the Azalea Trail Maids, fifty women chosen to serve as ambassadors of the city while wearing antebellum dresses, who originally participated in a three-day festival, but now operate throughout the year.
Blog 87 -365
- Exploring The National Rhododendron Garden. (happysuburbanchick.wordpress.com)
- Anthurium Plant Care Guide (proplants.com)
- An Orange Azalea for Susan (stacyallbritton.com)
- Garden Q&A: Loosen roots before replanting (triblive.com)
- 25% off at Azalea (grechenscodes.com)
- Her name was Azalea…like the flower (loveimbob.wordpress.com)
- Iggy Azalea To Headline The EchoPlex (thescenestar.typepad.com)
- AZALEA – Plant Care (shanghaiflorist.wordpress.com)
- You’re an Abelia (storyshucker.wordpress.com)
- RHS Wisley (rosiereeve.wordpress.com)