Azaleas always provide a much-loved burst of color in the spring in North Florida. The large masses of pink flowers most people love seeing in the spring are not the only azalea
s in the Rhododendron genus worth loving. For those seeking to add more native plants to their yards or just want a new plant with beautiful flowers, there are native azaleas for North Florida. The azaleas that are native in the north part of the state are classified as rhododendrons and not in the sub-group of azaleas within the Rhododendron genus. There are 27 native azaleas in the US. We are going to discuss a few of our favorites that are appropriate for the North Florida garden.
Rhododendron canescens, Pinxter Azalea
This is a beautiful azalea that can reach upwards of 15 feet tall. It is deciduous and will loose it’s leaves. It blooms range from a white to dark pink and shades of light pink. It is a fragrant flower and blooms at a similar time as the hybrid azaleas. Plant this azalea in a semi-shady area. It will bloom better if it is planted where it can get a little more sunlight as compared to some of the other species we are discussing. This plant will typically be found naturally near creeks.
Rhododedron austrinum, Florida Flame Azalea
This native azalea is listed on the state Endangered Florida list. It has a fragrant flower, but not a strong as R. canescens. The flowers are a beautiful mix of oranges, yellows, and reds. Another shade-loving plant. Plant this in filtered light. It should reach a mature height of 3-10 feet. All of these plants we are discussing are not salt tolerant nor enjoy salt spray. All of them also do better in acidic soils.
Rhododendron chapmanii, Chapman’s Rhododendron
This interesting azalea is not likely to be found naturally in the Columbia County area. There are only three naturally occurring pop
ulations known in Florida. It is a worthy addition to the garden to try though if you have scrubby pinewoods. This azalea appreciates full sun. The flower is a more open habit compared to the other two species we mention. It is a pink flower and the plant is evergreen, keeping it’s leaves year-round. It is listed on both the state and federal endangered list.
Native azaleas are interesting and beautiful additions to any North Florida garden. They attract pollinators including hummingbirds. Most prefer a shady home and would be beautiful planted amongst dogwoods, redbuds, and Chickasaw plums. If you are interested in native azaleas, a few more that we did not talk about include our summer-blooming native azaleas Rhodendron serrulatrum and Rhodendron viscosum var. viscosum. Both enjoy a swampier habitat. With some many choices there is no reason to not add a native azalea to your landscape. Seek out native nurseries, local box stores, and local plant sales and swap groups to find them.
Anderson-Messec, L. 2021. Florida Native Azaleas. Florida Native Plant Society. Accessed on March 10, 2022 at http://fnpsblog.blogspot.com/2021/03/florida-native-azaleas.html
This article was written by Erin Harlow, Horticulture Agent III and Master Gardener Volunteer Marge Anderson