West Virginia follows Washington…

West Virginia is our next virtual visit on our state by state wildflower tour and symbolically it follows the state of Washington by choosing the Rhododendron as its state wildflower. The Coast Rhododendron of Washington overwhelmed us with its natural beauty and it will be fun to complement the previous article by expanding on this flowering topic just one step further. West Virginia is mountainous as you know. On those forested hillsides and deep ravines (it has the deepest valley in the Eastern US!) grows the Rhododendron maximus or Great Rhododendron.

Early Morning in West Virginia. On those hillsides bloom the Great Laurel.

Locally it is called the Great Laurel or Rosebay although those names actually refer to other varieties. The maximus has white blossoms which occasionally tint toward pink or lavender. The trusses are large and can reach a foot across and the plant itself is huge reaching thirty feet tall in ideal locations. The leaves are up to 15 inches long and very leathery. They stay green all year although cold and drought will make the leaves fold down giving a shriveled appearance.

A late Spring freeze might give an indication of stress but this shriveling is a natural reaction to conserve moisture. The buds hold the promise of blossoms in June and July.

Add some warmth and moisture and they will perk up and spread laterally as if nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened.

Come early Summer and those leaves are now spread and the promise of a blossom is fulfilled.

Natural propagation is by suckering and air layering although each fertile blossom will produce thousands of very tiny seeds. A pound of Rhododendron seeds may have 5,000 individuals and at least a few will sprout and slowly grow to gigantic proportions. Gardening propagation is difficult. Usually cuttings are best but many enthusiasts have the patience for seeds. There are many Internet videos on how best to propagate all species of Rhododendrons.

A Mountain hike in June might reveal a treasure of bloom.
Mountain streams add to an ideal Rhododendron habitat.
For the home garden, there are thousands of Rhododendron choices.

To see some of the varied plants and colors available, visit Pinterest and search for Rhododendron plants. You will be amazed! Remember to plant it in partial shade, amend the clay soil with organic additives, and provide a well-drained but moist environment and you can share the most beautiful of displays with your family and neighbors.

A last look at the wild Rhododendron in West Virginia. Remind me again why I hunt wildflowers!

Let’s shake off the mesmerizing images of large blossoms and head to Wisconsin for a smaller and no less attractive state wildflower – The Wood Violet. I can’t wait!

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