Learning More About Garden Plants: Is it a Rhododendron or an Azalea?

One of the pursuits gardening enthusiasts engage in during the winter months is learning about flowers and other plants.  Perhaps there’s a new variety they want to include in their gardens, or maybe they want to know more about caring for the plants they already have.  So here’s today’s subject:  Rhododendrons and azaleas.

Rhododendrons and azaleas are sometimes confused by even the most qualified landscapers and gardeners.   In fact, the two are related. Believe it or not, all azaleas are Rhododendrons. But the reverse isn’t true; all Rhododendrons are not azaleas. “Rhododen- drons” (capitalized) refers to the plant genus, which is in the heath family; “rhododendrons” (lower case “r”) refers to the subset of the genus. Also included in this genus are rhododendrons, heathers, blueberries, cranberries and mountain laurels. A common thread between these plants is  that they need acidic soil to grow.

Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish naturalist created the genus in 1754. He created one for  azaleas and one for rhododendrons. In 1834 an Englishman broke the genus Rhododendron down further. He created eight different subsets or categories. Now azaleas are two of these subsets; one is the evergreen azalea, and the other is the deciduous azalea. Now if you’re reading the tag of an azalea bush you’ll see Rhododendron listed because that’s the scientific family.

The confusion today stems from the practice of people identifying the large, evergreen-leaved plants that flower as being the only Rhododendrons. So how can you tell the difference when looking at a plant? Rhododendrons are large shrubs, and azaleas are plants.  The easiest way is that the flowers of azaleas have five stamens and small leaves while rhododendrons have ten stamens, so counting them will help determine the difference.

Azaleas and all other Rhododendrons are just some of the interesting flowering plants you might consider for incorporating in your garden beds when the weather warms up.  If you’re thinking about making some changes in your landscape and need some advice about what would work well in your yard, please give us a call.