Deciduous shrub or small tree, 2.5(-5.5) m; young twigs covered with eglandular and gland-tipped hairs. Leaves 2.3-17 x 0.8-5.5 cm, elliptic to obovate, lower surface with scattered gland-tipped hairs also with larger eglandular hairs on main veins. Flower bud scales unicellular-pubescent, margin usually glandular. Pedicels pubescent, also with gland-tipped hairs. Flowers fragrant, appearing before the leaves, 5-15, in an umbellate raceme; calyx 0.5-8.5 mm; corolla pink or occasionally white, with brown to red flecks on the upper three lobes, broadly rotate-funnelform, two-lipped, tube short, gradually expanding into the limb, 20-35 mm. Capsule covered with gland-tipped hairs. Flowering April-May. Royal Horticultural Society (1997)
Distribution United States N Carolina
Habitat 900-1,830 m
RHS Hardiness Rating H5
Awards AM 1969 (E. de Rothschild, Exbury) to a clone 'Suva'; flowers red-purple, becoming paler, throat more or less white, with sparse, dark red-purple spots. AGM 1993
Conservation status Vulnerable (VU)
Taxonomic note This is a distinctive species with no close relatives. It is rare in the wild and considered to be threatened. Royal Horticultural Society (1997)
A deciduous azalea, attaining heights of 12 to 15 ft in the wild, bushy. Leaves linear-oval, very tapering at both ends, 2 to 4 in. long, 1⁄2 to 11⁄2 in. wide, at first sparsely bristly, becoming glabrous; upper surface lustrous, hairy on the midrib and at the edges; stalk 1⁄4 in. or less long. Flowers produced before the leaves in early May, four to eight together in a terminal cluster; pedicels up to 5⁄8 in. long, glandular. Calyx very small. Corolla clear pale pink, with a short, bell-shaped base, the limb about 11⁄2 in. across, with five oblong lobes, the upper three spotted with reddish brown at the base. Stamens normally seven, sometimes five or six. Ovary glandular; style sometimes with a few glands near the base. Bot. Mag., t. 8081. (s. Azalea ss. Canadense)
Native of the mountains of western North Carolina; discovered by G. R. Vasey on Balsam Mountain in 1878; introduced to Kew in 1891. It is placed in the same group as the rhodora, R. canadense, but Rehder considered that its nearest relative is the Japanese R. albrechtii. It is a better garden plant than either, being very hardy, free-flowering, and without any fads, growing well in full sun even on quite poor sandy soils. It can readily be raised from seeds, which it ripens in plenty; seedlings with white flowers sometimes occur – f. album Nichols.
The Award of Merit was given in 1969 to the clone ‘Suva’, exhibited by Edmund de Rothschild, Exbury, on May 19. The species as a whole received an Award of Garden Merit in 1927.