Plant of the Week: Dwarf Azalea

Photo by Eddie CrimminsPrized for its quiet beauty and rich fragrance, dwarf azalea (Rhododendron atlanticum) blooms from mid-May through June. Photo by Eddie Crimmins

The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 300 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees – each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line’s rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today.

This week we share one of our gardeners’ current favorites with you.

There is a mind-boggling number of rhododendron in the world. It is a genus of more than 900 species, all with an astounding ability to hybridize, resulting in infinite numbers of naturally occurring and cultivated varieties. The Royal Horticulture Society’s Encyclopedia of Garden Plants lists a full twelve pages of rhododendron varieties in a riot of color, form, and habit, and it is by no means an exhaustive list. Michael A. Dirr, a leading authority on landscape trees and shrubs, has concluded that “no effective way exists” to thoroughly represent in writing the genus Rhododendron, and he simply advises his readers to join the American Rhododendron Society if they would like more information.

In the face of this vast diversity, it is a relief to focus on just one of the High Line’s simple yet lovely native rhododendrons – Rhododendron atlanticum. Also known as dwarf azalea, R. atlanticum is a small shrub, just a few feet high and wide, with very fragrant, usually white flowers blushed with pink from mid-May well into June. It is a vigorously suckering shrub, and in its native habitat of the mid-Atlantic coastal plains, it has been known to colonize a full square mile of land under open pine forests. It does, however, tend to be better-behaved in gardens – especially those with heavier soils – and is prized for its quiet, elegant beauty, and rich, clove-like scent. It is an ideal choice for native woodland gardens, and, in true rhododendron form, there are at least thirteen varieties of dwarf azalea, all selected from wild hybrids, available in the nursery trade.

Rhododendron atlanticum is blooming on the High Line, between West 25th and West 27th Streets, under the Philip A. and Lisa Marie Falcone Flyover.

Download our May Bloom Guide.

Our horticultural team counts on members and friends like you to help keep the High Line beautiful and thriving. Join our community of supporters who play an essential role in the High Line’s most important gardening projects – become a member of Friends of the High Line today!

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