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Rhododendron simsii hybrids: Indian azalea

Some call the Indian azalea the queen of winter-blooming potted plants. The dazzling blooms of this little bush come in a riot of different colors, from white through shades of pink and purple to deepest crimson. Some examples have bi- or even tricolored petals or double flowers. In the spring, azalea bushes are a solid mass of bright color.

The Indian azalea is a member of the huge genus Rhododendron, which contains more than 800 species. Rhododendrons are belonging to the heath family or Ericaceae, and prefer an acidic, moisture-conserving soil. They absorb water and nutrients through their root balls, which consist entirely of fine, hair-like roots. As they don’t have long, thick taproots, it’s very important that rhododendrons be watered regularly and not allowed to dry out.

The precursors of our potted azaleas come from China. Dwarf rhododendrons have been cultivated as ornamentals for centuries both there and in Japan. The most popular variety was Rhododendron simsii, some of which were exported to England in 1808 with the misleading species name „indicum“. Nonetheless, they’re still popularly known as Indian azaleas today.

Later, Rhododendron simsii was crossed with other rhododendron species from East Asia and North America. Belgium was a leading center in producing such hybrids. In Germany, they were first grown in Dresden. The Saxon capital once sent azaleas to customers around the world – including, so it’s said, the Czar of Russia.

Today’s potted azalea is the result of hundreds of years of hybridization and crossbreeding, explaining the wide variety of forms available – some 2,000 are known. Blooming early in the year, Indian azaleas remain a staple of home gardeners.

Audio file download
Rhododendron simsii hybrids: Indian azalea (MP3, 854 KB)

Audio production and copyright: Soundgarden Audioguidance GmbH
Text: Ehrentraud Bayer, Botanischer Garten München-Nymphenburg

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