Tyler is home to thousands of azaleas that put on a dazzling display in late March and early April. These azaleas are all hybrids with different species, mostly hailing from the orient.
Did you know that there is also an azalea native to Texas? Maybe you’ve heard of the Azalea Canyon near Newton, Texas where the deciduous azaleas draw visitors every March to see the show. But, did you know that there is another azalea native to Smith County in Northeast Texas? I was so surprised when one day one of my Master Gardeners casually mentioned
she had native azaleas blooming along a creek in her backyard. Sure enough, she had a very nice colony of Rhododendron oblongifolium, better known as the Texas Azalea. It is not a show stopper, but it is very cool to have a local, native representative of one of our favorite plant groups.
Texas Azalea is a deciduous azalea, coming out of domancy in March. It blooms in mid to late May, with sprays of pure white flowers,having a clove-like fragrance. The leaves, buds and flowers are covered with sticky glands, a distinctive characteristic of this species. By the time it begins blooming, it has put on a lot of new growth, which partially obscures the flowers.
I’m not 100% positive it is R. oblongifolium. I remember reading somewhere that some taxonomists or Rhodie specialists felt it was a type of Swamp Azalea – R. vicosum. Both bloom late, in May, have clove-like fragrance, have sticky buds. I not sure it really matters all that much – I just like having it in my yard,where it blooms alongside an oakleaf hydrangea.
Texas Azalea is difficult to propagate, and not especially showy, so it won’t ever become a common centerpiece in the landscape. But, it’s nice to know that Smith County is home to native azaleas.