May is the time to look for the wild and magnificent Flame Azalea! Not to be outdone by Mountain Laurel, which also blooms in late spring, Flame Azalea is a shrub that practically sets the woods on fire with with its blaze of orange flowers.
Wild azaleas don’t grow like the familiar, compact shrubs we nurture in our gardens. Instead, these plants can grow up to 12 feet in height. Due to the open architecture of its branches, mature plants can look more like young trees. The showy flowers appear around the same time that new leaves are forming on the branches, and they vary in color from orange to red to yellow. For tired hikers, this explosion of bright color in the understory can be a welcome surprise.
The azaleas below were photographed in the oak-hickory forests of Brush Mountain, near Blacksburg, VA. Click on any picture to open a larger viewer.
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One of our favorite areas for flame azaleas is along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Chateau Morrisette winery.