A couple of years ago I went on a collecting trip to a piece of property owned by a client’s brother. I had been hoping to harvest some American hornbeam, but there just weren’t any to be found. I did, however, run across a species I had never encountered in all my years of collecting. The young man who was guiding me had done some course work in forestry. He told me the species was Sweetbay magnolia, Magnolia virginiana. I collected a couple of them just to see how they would do in pot culture. Last fall, a small specimen I had kept produced some very fat buds that I speculated had to be flower buds. The Sweetbay magnolia blooms in summer, so when the buds didn’t open in spring it wasn’t a surprise. Then recently they started moving, and I was sure I’d get a chance to see how the Sweetbay looks in bloom. You may have read my latest blog that featured it.
Well, reader Pierre K posted a comment to the effect that my tree might not be Sweetbay after all, but rather Swamp azalea. Huh? I did some quick research, and the flowers didn’t seem to match. But then … one of them opened up, and it turns out that Pierre was right. Rhododendron viscosum is a wild native azalea that is found in the swamps from the Eastern U.S. into the South and all the way to Texas.