Chionanthus virginicus in bloom, and Bartram's painting

The genus Rhododendron consists of native azaleas (which are deciduous) and the plants commonly referred to as rhododendrons (which are evergreen). The smallest of the evergreen rhododendrons is one called Rhododendron minus. It looks a bit like a native azalea but it has leaves that stay on the plant all winter, with fresh ones emerging in the spring.

I enjoy finding it in natural areas in May and June and have been delighted recently to find it in the metro Atlanta area in several locations: Blue Heron Nature Preserve (on the Blueway Trail) and Vickery Creek Trail at Roswell Mill (all these photos are from Vickery Creek). I’ve also seen it at Providence Canyon State Park in southwest Georgia and at FDR State Park in middle Georgia.

It seems to rarely be offered for sale so we may have to be content with admiring it in the wild. At the Roswell location, it was high on the slopes above the creek, mixed with mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla), sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus), and smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens).

Fringetree blooms

R. minus and its native range map. Map is © 2014 Esri | USDA-NRCS-NGCE & NPDT. (The PLANTS Database, 06/01/2021. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC USA.) Photos by Ellen Honeycutt.


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