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April 23, 2018

Rhododendron Provides Stunning Spring Display

Have you been lucky enough to come upon a rosebay rhododendron on the Buckhorn Inn Nature Trail while it is in full bloom?  You can see several beautiful specimens toward Cottage 1 and also growing along the edge of Buckhorn Pond.  They reach their blooming peak in June.

The Spring 2018 issue of Smokies Life Magazine http://www.smokiesinformation.org/smokies-life-magazine celebrates this beautiful shrub.  There are four native species of this wonderful plant in this area.

In the Smokies you can find four species of native true rhododendron.

Rhododendron are seen along many trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The rosebay grows at lower levels and can be found throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The small-leafed variety also grows at lower levels.  The Carolina and the Catawba can me found at mid- to high-levels.

The word “rhododendron” means rose tree.  The Smokies Life article by Courtney Nix contains this marvelous description, written in 1799 by explorer John Fraser, Jr.:  “We had been traveling among the mountains, and one morning we were ascending to the summit of Bald Mountain in the midst of a fog so dense that we could not see farther than a yard before us.  As we reached the top the fog began to clear away, and the sun to shine out brightly.  The first objects that attracted our eye, growing among the long grass was rhododendron catawbiense in full bloom.  There was no other plant there but itself and the grass, and the scene was beautiful.”  Indeed, it must have been spectacular!

Growing Rhododendron Shrubs

These evergreen bushes prefer moist, acidic soil.  They do well in light shade.  High winds can harm the plants, so be sure they are planted near wind-breaks.  Pine needles are good used as a mulch as they add acid to the soil and keep the ground moist.  

Rosebays, such as ours, do not bloom every year.  They have an irregular bloom cycle.  Some years, perhaps due to good weather, lack of a late frost, or good patterns of rainfall, more shrubs than usual bloom.  Count yourself lucky if you happen to be in the Great Smoky Mountains during one of these “Big Bloom” years!