Plant of the Week: Swamp azalea

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 500 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.

Long before the leaves and flowers of Rhododendron viscosum unfurl, winter offers the perfect opportunity to appreciate the intricate details of its buds. Each bud consists of layers of waxy scales which tightly enfold the embryonic tissues within and protect them from the cold. Upon close inspection, the buds reveal a beauty that rivals the blooms which are to follow.

As its common name indicates, Rhododendron viscosum, or swamp azalea, needs moist conditions. Native to much of the eastern United States, from our region and south to Alabama, this azalea can be found in coastal grasslands and lowland pine woods. Though it tolerates occasional flooding in the wild, Rhododendron viscosum is best grown in well-draining soils.

From May to July, bumblebees frequent its trumpet-shaped flowers, which appear late compared to many rhododendron species. Pollen-laden stamens, surrounding the long style, extend far beyond the petals, increasing opportunities for pollination. These thread-like sex organs make the flowers look almost animated, like leggy insects. Come back in spring to decide for yourself whether flower or bud is more intriguing!

PLANTING TIP
Like all Rhododendrons, Rhododendron viscosum requires acidic soil. It is best planted in a lightly shaded location, sheltered from high winds. In winter, the shallow roots benefit from the insulation of a mulch layer.

WHERE TO SEE THIS PLANT
Philip A. & Lisa Maria Falcone Flyover between West 25th St. and West 27th St.

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