Bloom season for the Azalea collection is fast approaching, and Natural Landscaper Sarah Briggs is keeping an eye on the plants as they begin to blossom. Read on for her weekly updates on what’s blooming in the garden.


Want to visit the collection for yourself? The trail is an easy half-mile walk – view the map and get directions here.

July 20, 2022

As we are getting late in the season to find native azaleas blooming, this will likely be the last entry for the year about The North Carolina Arboretum’s Azalea Collection.

We will conclude with plumleaf azalea (Rhododendron prunifolium).  We are fortunate to have a nice grouping of plumleaf azaleas growing right before the bridge as you first enter the Azalea Collection.
These azaleas are happily situated along the creek with a bit of shade. Even from Bent Creek Road they will grab your attention with their vibrant red to orange blooms. I hope you get a chance to see them in person. It has truly been a pleasure sharing the Azalea Collection with you this year and hope you continue to enjoy the Arboretum’s gardens and trails.  – Sarah Briggs

June 28, 2022

Not much to report currently about azaleas blooming in the Azalea Collection. We still have the late summer blooming plumleaf azalea (Rhododendron prunifolium) to look forward to, however, the garden is full of beauty and well worth a visit this week.

An abundance of rosebay rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) are in bloom throughout the Arboretum and sure to be noticed along Frederick Law Olmsted Way as you enter the property. This rhododendron is found in the forest understory and wood’s edge at our lower elevations and typically grows about 5 to 15 feet in height but can get much taller. The trails to and through Azalea Collection are providing a beautiful display of rosebay rhododendron blooms.


Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) is another wonderful shrub that is now blooming in the garden. It also seems to love the dappled shade of the forest understory and woods edge. This deciduous shrub has a mounding habit and has formed many nice thickets on the Arboretum property. The flowers are showy, white, cylindrical panicles that reach skyward in mid-summer.
And certainly of note, mountain camelia (Stewartia ovata; pictured right) is blooming in the Azalea Collection. The showy blooms of mountain camelia are solitary and white with a center of yellow-orange anthers. It is a rather uncommon large shrub or tree found in the Southeastern United States, mostly found in the Southern Appalachians.
Of course all of these plants offer so much more to the landscape than simply blooms and are well worth enjoying all year long, but what a nice time to pay them a visit. I hope you can come and enjoy the shade and quiet respite of this creekside garden on these hot summer days.


June 10, 2022

One of the later blooming azaleas, swamp azalea (Rhododendron viscosum), can be found blooming in the Azalea Collection this week. It has white flowers and is very fragrant with a clove-like scent that will grab your attention as you approach the first wooden bridge. This azalea attracts bees, butterflies and hummingbirds to the garden. As well as extending the bloom season in the azalea garden, it is also known for its beautiful fall leaf color.

The Gregory Bald azaleas (pictured left) have ramped up their display with even more coming into bloom. Located near the back of the Azalea Collection, they will greet you with a beautiful block of red and deep orange. If you look closely on the fringes of this group, you will also notice some with blooms in pink to light orange-pink.


I hope you have a chance to visit the garden to enjoy some of these azaleas brightening up our June.

May 31, 2022

Upon entrance to the garden, three flame azaleas are blooming to create the perfect welcoming committee for your visit. This week in the Azalea Collection the Gregory Bald hybrids continue their steady progression toward peak bloom. A couple are presently flowering and several others have swollen buds.


The Cumberland azaleas (pictured right) remain the stars of the garden this week. Their blooms range from a beautiful light yellow to deep orange. They are in peak bloom and should not be missed if possible!


The May White azaleas (Rhododendron eastmanii) are just beginning to flower. The delicate white blooms of this rare species are graced with a subtle yellow blotch on the interior.



As we are reaching the end of May, we still have many blooming azaleas to visit in the garden. Hope everyone has a chance to enjoy them for yourselves but, either way, please enjoy these rainy day photos from this past week.


May 22, 2022

Feeling that we are beyond what could be considered “peak” in the azalea collection, now well past the sensational show of Piedmont, Pinxterbloom and Florida azaleas, it might come as a surprise that some of the most beautiful azalea blooms are still to be seen. Before you even cross the bridge to enter the Azalea Collection you are greeted by a beautiful blooming flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum).


Moving through the garden, you will find Cumberland azalea (Rhododendron cumberlandense) just beginning to bloom. Its striking flowers range from light yellow to salmon pink. Named for its primary geographic distribution throughout the Cumberland Plateau, it can also be found sprinkled within the southern Blue Ridge Mountains.


In the back section of the garden one of the Gregory Bald hybrids is also in full bloom. It seems impossible it can be so spectacular when, little more than a week ago, tight buds on this azalea could only be spotted upon close inspection. It might be wise to keep a eye on this section of the collection in case the other Gregory Bald azaleas soon follow suit. Seeing this azalea bloom is truly a delight and a fun sneak peek at what is sure to follow at higher elevations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Azaleas on Gregory Bald typically bloom in mid to late June.


What is in peak bloom in the Azalea Collection, and nearly anywhere on the Arboretum’s 434 acres, are the mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia; pictured left). The clustered blooms spill out from the forest and catch your eye with displays of white, pink and red. On the flower clusters, open blooms mingle with closed, another genius plot by nature to entice bees who, as they explore the flower clusters, trigger the closed blooms to open dusting the bees with pollen. You don’t need to go near a trail to enjoy the mountain laurel blooms. Enjoy seeing them as you drive up Frederick Law Olmsted Way when you visit the Arboretum.

May 12, 2022

Compared to the last couple of weeks, we have hit a bit of a lull in the Azalea Collection. However, there are still some lovely blooming azaleas to be found.
The flame azaleas (Rhododendron calendulaceum) at the entrance have a few flowers but most are not flowering yet. There are a few flame azaleas within the garden that are putting on a beautiful display. That said, this is a great year for flame azaleas all over the property. Every trail and road you take is likely to lead you to a flame azalea blooming in ranges of yellowy-orange to nearly red.


There are some later blooming azaleas we continue to anticipate. These include sweet azalea (Rhododendron arborescens; pictured right), plum leaf azalea (Rhododendron prunifolium) and swamp azalea (Rhododendron viscosum). If you do have a chance to visit the garden, there are a few of these flowering here and there but most are yet to come. Also on the horizon are the Red Hills azalea (Rhododendron colemanii) and the Santee or May White azalea (Rhododendron eastmanii). All of these azaleas currently have buds but usually bloom a bit later in May or June.


Speaking of azaleas we can look forward to, the very back of the garden is occupied by a collection of Gregory Bald hybrid azaleas. These azaleas come from Gregory Bald in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There they reside at an elevation of 4949 feet above sea level compared to the azalea collection’s elevation of around 2078 feet. They are the result of hybridization between four species of native azaleas which include the flame azalea, swamp azaleas, sweet azalea, and Cumberland azalea (Rhododendron cumberlandense). Their diverse parentage results in a wide range of colors when they bloom.


I hope you all continue to enjoy the Azalea Collection as these later blooming azaleas begin to take center stage.

May 4, 2022

This is another great week to visit the Azalea Collection here at The North Carolina Arboretum. The Piedmont (Rhododendron canescens), pinxterbloom (Rhododendron periclymenoides) and Oconee (Rhododendron flammeum) azaleas are still flowering and though some are fading a bit, fresh blooms are still emerging.

Upon approach to the garden you will probably notice the latest azalea to bloom, the coastal azalea (Rhododendron atlanticum; pictured left). Truly prized for its fragrance, this azalea welcomes you to the garden from all the way across Bent Creek. This is not to undervalue the Piedmont azalea, also lovely in fragrance, which has been providing a wonderful backdrop to the garden for the past couple of weeks. 

One spectacular coastal azalea can be found in full bloom in the frontmost section of the garden. The blooms of the coastal azalea are generally white but can range from shades of pale yellow or pink. More coastal azaleas can be found farther back in the garden and these are just beginning to flower.

Often overlooked is the quietest, very last trail in the Azalea Garden. This shady trail is lovingly referred to as Fern Loop. Though an unofficial name, it is aptly given. This farthest loop passes through a naturally wet area where you can easily spot  large, prehistoric looking Cinnamon ferns. These easily identifiable ferns are, in fact, very closely related to their ancient relatives. They grow up to four feet high (sometimes more) with leafy, green fronds encircling fertile, eventually cinnamon colored, fronds in the center. The fronds are only now unfurling and will be a joy to watch as they emerge for the season.

You will also find occasional Christmas ferns and a carpet of New York ferns as you walk this short loop trail. The air in fern loop has a different feel as it takes you briefly a little deeper into the forest. It is a nice place to let your cares float away and there is even a bench to sit and enjoy Bent Creek for a while. Hope you enjoy your visit to this unique garden space.

April 27, 2022

The abundance of blooms this week in the Azalea Collection is truly striking. The previously mentioned piedmont, pinkshell, pinxterbloom and Florida azaleas are still blooming and now joined by the Oconee Azalea (Rhododendron flammeum; pictured right).


Many people come to the Azalea Collection hoping to see a flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum). Those are not yet flowering in the Azalea Collection, however, there are a few in bloom along FLOW (Frederick Law Olmsted Way) you might spot on your way in or out of the Arboretum property. Keep your eyes peeled for the orange flowers peeking out from the woods.


On the forest floor this week, wild geranium is abundant with lavender flowers and palmately lobed leaves. Sweetshrub and Florida anise are two shrubs you can find blooming in addition to the azaleas. They both have interesting blooms with those of the Florida anise being quite red and the sweetshrub typically more maroon to brown in color.


Farther into the garden, the white blooms of the parsley hawthorn might catch your eye. The leaves of the tree have earned it the name with a parsley-like appearance. The bark is another nice feature of this tree, but beware of the formidable thorns. Following the flowers will come red berries for birds to enjoy.


Hope you get the chance to enjoy the Azalea Collection!

April 20, 2022


The Azalea Collection is really beginning to draw the attention of faithful azalea aficionados, as well as those of us who are just fortunate enough to stumble in at the right time. Every year, beginning around mid to late April, the garden transforms into a quiet sanctuary as people walk reverently about, hoping to see our beautiful native azaleas in bloom.


The garden is very pretty right now with pinkshell azalea (Rhododendron vaseyi), piedmont azalea (Rhododendron canescens; pictured left), pinxterbloom azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides) and Florida azalea (Rhododendron austrinum) all just beginning to come into bloom. With the warm-for-spring weather in the forecast, I would expect these to be absolutely gorgeous by next week if not sooner.

Also blooming in the garden are the understory papaw trees with purple/brown blooms. They are a little modest compared to the azaleas but very pretty upon inspection. A small grove resides just to the left of the first wooden bridge you cross as you walk through the garden. On the forest floor you will find wood anemone and star chickweed, both with delicate white flowers, blooming throughout the garden.


I hope you get the chance to visit the Azalea Collection in the coming days and weeks. If you don’t feel like taking the hilly hike down (and then up) Running Cedar Road, you can always park at Gatehouse Parking. From there, take Old Mill Trail to its end and then go left onto Bent Creek Road. This route goes along the creek and is the easiest and quickest way to get to the Azalea Collection.



April 13, 2022

Things are looking great in the Azalea garden thanks to our hard working crew and the garden is ready to receive guests and be a beautiful backdrop for all that nature has in store.


Right now several of the key players, Pinkshell, Florida and Mountain Azaleas, have swollen buds and could be in bloom as early as next week. The only azalea blooming at this time is the purple blooming Hybrid Rhododendron, Rhododendron chapmanii x mucronulatum. The blooms were slightly affected by the past days rains, but it is still quite pretty blooming along Bent Creek.


A spring walk in the Azalea Collection would never be without reward as there are still plenty of sights to enjoy. Mayapples are popping up all over and floating above the forest floor. Yellow Trout-lily is also in abundance and easy to spot with its distinctive, mottled leaves. Also blooming in the garden is the Carolina Silverbell tree as well as wildflowers such as Allegany Spurge, Oconee Bells and Yellowroot.


I will keep you posted throughout the coming weeks as things continue to progress. I think we are still a little ways out from peak bloom time and it is always hard to pinpoint exactly when that will be, but I imagine two weeks from now will be pretty spectacular.