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Tour of Species Native to New England

Rhododendron canadense
Picture by S & J Perkins
Rhododendron canadense in Framingham, MA

Rhododendron canadense, Rhodora, is native to freshwater wet areas in New England. In spring, the pink flowers of Rhodora are visible in the small clearing on the right just before exit 1 when driving south on New Hampshire's I-93.

The picture above illustrates that the flower of Rhodora is not tubular and contains 10 stamens. Most rhododendrons have regularly shaped flowers whereas Rhodora has an irregularly shaped split corolla (flower). These differences contributed to botanists formerly classifying this plant as Rhodora canadense rather than including it in the genus Rhododendron. Most native deciduous azaleas have regularly shaped tubular flowers and only 5 stamens. Rhodora is not closely related to the other native New England azaleas; R. viscosum, R. periclymenoides and R. prinophyllum or to most of the other deciduous azaleas native to North America. Its closest relative is R. vaseyi found in the mountains of North Carolina.

The irregular split shape of the corolla is why the stamens are so visible near the base of the flower.

In the wild at lower elevations as Ralph Waldo Emerson noted, Rhodora is found in swamps, bogs, and hammocks blooming pink-purple in early spring when the plant is still surrounded by but not standing in water. In the mountains it is found growing in moist soil in exposed locations. Not surprisingly, Rhodora prefers a constant source of moisture when planted in the garden.


Lines on Being Asked, Whence Is the Flower?


In May, when sea-winds pierced our solitudes,
I found the fresh rhodora in the woods,
Spreading its leafless blooms in a damp nook,
To please the desert and the sluggish brook
The purple petals fallen in the pool
Made the black waters with their beauty gay,
Here might the red-bird come his plumes to cool,
And court the flower that cheapens his array.
Rhodora! if the sages ask thee why
This charm is wasted on the marsh and sky,
Tell them, dear, that if eyes were made for seeing,
Then beauty is its own excuse for being.
Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose!
I never thought to ask; I never knew,
But in my simple ignorance suppose
The self-same Power that brought me there brought you.

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