Bloom season for the Azalea collection is fast approaching, and Curator of the Arboretum’s National Native Azalea Collection Carson Ellis 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.

April 9, 2024

“Rhodo Trip: ASA Convention in Alabama”

The first week of April I was excited to get a jump-start on spring by traveling south to Alabama for the annual Azalea Society of America convention! The azaleas were in full swing in Auburn, Alabama, where I admired the collections and fine examples of conservation horticulture at the Davis Arboretum. Following the convention, I took advantage of my trip and made additional stops to notable natural azalea sites in the region, including Providence Canyon, Desoto State Park, Cane Creek Canyon Preserve, and Savage Gulf State Park (TN). While every stop was beautiful, I was blown away by the beauty, biodiversity, and generosity of the land managers at Cane Creek Canyon Preserve.

Donated to the North Alabama Land Trust in 2023, Cane Creek Canyon Preserve’s nearly 700 acres has been meticulously cared for, conserved, and shared with the public by Jim and Faye Lacefield since the late 1970s. It is home to a fantastic population of Rhododendron alabamense, regarded as one of the largest populations of the species in the state of Alabama. Jim Lacefield provided me with some handwritten notes and sent me out into the field with permission to gather seed and cuttings. Though it was too early to take softwood cuttings from most of the plants, I was able to gather some material from a couple beautiful R. canescens specimens growing creekside (pictured right), found a few persistent seed capsules on Rhododendron alabamense growing along the canyon rim, and marked a few favorite plants with hopes to return. 


March 26, 2024

Regular Native Azalea Collection walkers might notice that, after a quiet winter, March has brought a sudden buzz of energy back into the landscape! Thanks to help from the Natural Landscape and Garden Crew staff, as well the Azalea Collection’s own Azalea Crew volunteers, we’ve been able to install new plantings, make major progress on tree removals, and lay a fresh layer of chips throughout. The Collection is looking spiffy for the quickly approaching azalea season!

New plantings in the Collection include sweeps of Shortia galacifolia. We can look forward to their quaint flowers, white bells with a pink-blushed calyx, blooming next year in early to mid March. Additionally, new specimens of Rhododendron canescens, generously donated by our friends at Flower Moon Nursery, can be seen blooming at the entrance to the Azalea Collection. Typically R. canescens won’t bloom for several more weeks at our elevation, but these plants got an early start down in Morganton, NC. Lastly, this is a great time to appreciate our hybrid R. chapmanii x mucronulatum specimens (pictured top left), reliably the earliest-flowering specimens in the Azalea Collection, along with various early-blooming wildflowers, including Erythronium umbilicatum (pictured middle right) and Anemonoides quinquefolia (pictured bottom left.)  



March 17, 2024

“Rhodo Trip: Helping hands on Hooper Bald”

This year the North Carolina Arboretum’s Native Azalea Collection was excited to join a collaborative initiative with Graham County, the Azalea Society of America, and the US Forest Service to assist with the site management for of a special population of Rhododendron calendulaceum that grows at Hooper Balds’ soaring elevation of 5,429’. These azaleas have remarkable flower variation, with petal colors ranging from yellows to near reds, and are the focus of Graham County’s annual Flame Azalea Festival. 

A hearty group of volunteers, including the Arboretum’s own Sarah Briggs, Joey Kyle, Anders Christiano, and Katie Bradley, carried saws and loppers up the trail and put in a solid day of work clearing competing trees and shrubs from around the azalea specimens, helping to give them a little more growing space and sunlight. Afterwards, our Arboretum crew did not pass up the opportunity to visit the incredible tulip poplars at Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest!