A shrub from six to thirty-five feet high. Leaves. - Thick and leathery, oblong, entire. Flowers. - White or pink, clustered. Calyx. - Minute, five-toothed. Corolla. - Somewhat bell-shaped, five-parted, greenish in the throat, with red, yellow, or green spots. Stamens. - Usually ten. Pistil. - One.
This beautiful native shrub is one of the glories of our country when in the perfection of its loveliness. The woods which nearly cover many of the mountains of our Eastern States hide from all but the bold explorer a radiant display during the early part of July. Then the lovely waxy flower-clusters of the American rhododendron are in their fulness of beauty. As in the laurel, the clammy flower-stalks seem fitted to protect the blossom from the depredations of small and useless insects, while the markings on the corolla attract the attention of the desirable bee.
In those parts of the country where it flourishes most luxuriantly, veritable rhododendron jungles termed "hells" by the mountaineers are formed. The branches reach out and interlace in such a fashion as to be almost impassable.
The nectar secreted by the blossoms is popularly supposed to be poisonous. We read in Xenophon that during the retreat of the Ten Thousand, the soldiers found a quantity of honey of which they freely partook, with results that proved almost fatal. This honey is said to have been made from a rhododendron which is still common in Asia Minor and which is believed to possess intoxicating and poisonous properties.
Comparatively little attention had been paid to this superb flower until the Centennial Celebration at Philadelphia, when some fine exhibits attracted the admiration of thousands. The shrub has been carefully cultivated in England, having been brought to great perfection on some of the English estates. It is yearly winning more notice in this country.
Plate XVI. American Rhododendron. - R. maximum
The generic name is from the Greek for rose-tree.