This section is from the book "Nature's Garden", by Neltje Blanchan. Also available from Amazon: Nature's Garden; An Aid To Knowledge Of Our Wild Flowers And Their Insect Visitors.
Flowers - Crimson pink, purplish or rose pink, to nearly white, 1 1/2 to 2 in. across, faintly fragrant, clustered, opening before or with the leaves, and developed from cone-like, scaly brown buds. Calyx minute, 5-parted; corolla funnel-shaped, the tube narrow, hairy, with 5 regular, spreading lobes; 5 long red stamens; 1 pistil, declined, protruding. Stem: Shrubby, usually simple below, but branching above, 2 to 6 ft. high. Leaves: Usually clustered, deciduous, oblong, acute at both ends, hairy on midrib.
Preferred Habitat - Moist, rocky woods, or dry woods and thickets.
Flowering Season - April - May.
Distribution - Maine to Illinois, and southward to the Gulf.
Woods and hillsides are glowing with fragrant, rosy masses of this lovely azalea, the Pinxter-bloem or Whitsunday flower of the Dutch colonists, long before the seventh Sunday after Easter. Among our earliest exports, this hardy shrub, the swamp azalea, and the superb flame-colored species of the Alleghanies, were sent early in the eighteenth century to the old country, and there crossed with A. Pontica of southern Europe by the Belgian horti-culturalists, to whom we owe the Ghent azaleas, the final triumphs of the hybridizer, that glorify the shrubberies on our own lawns to-day. The azalea became the national flower of Flanders. These hardy species lose their leaves in winter, whereas the hothouse varieties of A. Indica, a native of China and Japan, have thickish leaves, almost if not quite evergreen. A few of the latter stand our northern winters, especially the pure white variety now quite commonly planted in cemetery lots. In that delightfully enthusiastic little book, "The Garden's Story," Mr. Ellwanger says of the Ghent azalea: " In it I find a charm presented by no other flower. Its soft tints of buff, sulphur, and primrose; its dazzling shades of apricot, salmon, orange, and vermilion are always a fresh revelation of color. They have no parallel among flowers, and exist only in opals, sunset skies, and the flush of autumn woods." Certainly American horticulturalists were not clever in allowing the industry of raising these plants from our native stock to thrive on foreign soil.
Naturally the azalea's protruding style forms the most convenient alighting place for the female bee, its chief friend; and there she leaves a few grains of pollen, brought on her hairy underside from another flower, before again dusting herself there as she crawls over the pretty colored anthers on her way to the nectary. Honey produced from azaleas by the hive bee is in bad repute. All too soon after fertilization the now useless corolla slides along to the tip of the pistil, where it swings a while before dropping to earth.
Our beautiful wild honeysuckle, called naked (nudiflora), because very often the flowers appear before the leaves, has a peculiar Japanese grace on that account. Every farmer's boy's mouth waters at sight of the cool, juicy May-apple, the extraordinary pulpy growth on this plant and the swamp pink. This excrescence seems to have no other use than that of a gratuitous, harmless gift to the thirsty child, from whom it exacts no reward of carrying seeds to plant distant colonies, as the mandrake's yellow, tomato-like May-apple does. But let him beware, as he is likely to, of the similar looking, but hollow, stringy apples growing on the bushy Andromeda, which turn black with age.
From Maine to Florida and westward to Texas, chiefly near the coast, in low, wet places only need we look for the Swamp Pink or Honeysuckle, White or Clammy Azalea (A. viscosa), a more hairy species than the Pinxter-flower, with a very sticky, glandular corolla tube, and deliciously fragrant blossoms, by no means invariably white. John Burroughs is not the only one who has passed "several patches of swamp honeysuckles, red with blossoms" ("Wake-Robin"). But as this species does not bloom until June and July, when the sun quickly bleaches the delicate flowers, it is true we most frequently find them white, merely tinged with pink. The leaves are well developed before the blossoms appear. Concerning azaleas' poisonous property, see page 126.
Wild Honeysuckle Or Pink Azalea. (Azalea nudiflora.)