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There are several beautiful deciduous azaleas (a type of rhododendron) that are native to Louisiana and other southern states. Unlike the Asian varieties, these azaleas are deciduous (they lose their leaves in winter), and they are cold-hardy to below freezing temperatures. They have fragrant flowers in shades of pink, white, yellow, orange, and red. The pink ones are often called honeysuckle azaleas, while the gold ones are called flame. Some cultivars have variegated leaves and/or flowers.
Showy native azaleas deserve a place in the landscape. Hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators are attracted to the colorful nectar-rich flowers, making them a good addition to a wildlife, moon, or sustainable garden.
Honeysuckle Azalea - Rhododendron canescens
Rhododendron canescens is also known as honeysuckle azalea and Piedmont azalea. This attractive deciduous shrub can grow to 8 feet and is a joy to behold in spring when the white to pink scented flowers cover the bare branches as the leaves unfold. Swallowtail butterflies and hummingbirds flock to the blossoms.
There are many shades of pink and white available, and some experts think that Rhododendron canescens hybridizes freely in nature. In the wild, these azaleas are found growing in part-shade on high, well-drained ground along small streams and rivers all over Louisiana. They prefer acid soil and bloom best when they receive some morning sun. The pale, fragrant flowers stand out in the landscape, making this shrub a showstopper.
Flame Azalea - Rhododendron astrinum
The gorgeous flame azalea, which comes in shades of gold and orange-red, is my favorite of the deciduous natives that will grow in Louisiana. This fragrant large shrub is a favorite of swallowtail butterflies as well as hummingbirds and bees. Though it is not native to Louisiana, it grows well here in much the same conditions as Piedmont azalea—part-shade, well-drained, moist acidic soil.
There are many cultivars of this beauty in the trade. Some have variegated flowers, and others sport variegated foliage. In the landscape, they make a striking addition to open shade areas where they can spread out and put on a show.
Swamp Azalea - Rhododendron serrulatum or R. viscosum
Swamp azalea, an unusual summer-blooming fragrant, white native azalea, is fast disappearing in the wild. Most of the native rhododendrons bloom in spring, but this beauty blooms in June, after its leaves are formed, in South Louisiana. A large shrub, swamp azalea grows in swamps, wet pine-lands and wetlands in the wild.
To grow this hard-to-find shrub, plant it in rich, moist soil in part shade. Some nurseries call it "hammock-sweet azalea", and many growers and botanists argue that R. viscosum and R. serrulatum are two different species, while others consider them the same plant.
By adding compatible companion plants to plantings of native azaleas, your landscape will be ablaze in spring. Since these rhododendrons grow in the open shade of pine and hardwood forest, other acid-loving natives such as wild blueberries (Vaccinium), red buckeye (Aesculus pavia), or Indian pink (Spigelia marilandica) will add color in spring. Early spring bulbs such as amaryllis, daffodils, and narcissus planted in front of the bed will brighten the scene. Old-fashioned favorites such as Japanese magnolia and bridal wreath compliment the lovely blooms of these shrubs.
Questions & Answers
Question: Where can I buy Louisiana Azaleas?
Answer: You can probably find them online. Plant Delights Nursery is a good place to start.
Question: what is the azalea we have in east Texas?
Answer: You are probably thinking of the Piedmont azalea, Rhododendron canescens. Check out Sally Wasowski's book Gardening with Native Plants of the South. She lives in Dallas, TX.
© 2014 Yvonne L B
Dave from Lancashire north west England on October 17, 2014:
Hi, only just come across your hubs. This is a well presented and informative hub, enhanced by great images. The Piedmont native azalea the flowers are uncannily like honeysuckle flowers. great read,voted up interesting and useful.
Yvonne L B (author) from Covington, LA on October 11, 2014:
Thank you. I'm glad that you liked it. I enjoy photographing the flowers in my backyard habitat, especially the natives.
Eiddwen from Wales on October 11, 2014:
Loved this hub ;full of interesting information and amazing pictures. Brilliant and looking forward to following you on here naturegirl7s.
Enjoy your weekend.