Today we embark on a journey to the Himalayan and Southeast Asian regions. We find a wondrous plant classified as both deciduous or evergreen, depending on the type of species. As we know, deciduous plants shed their leaves before winter, while evergreen leaves hack it out through the cold, snowy months.
With nearly 1,000 species, our plant grows in various shapes and sizes. Often planted as a shrub in urban landscapes. Some species clock out around 5 or 6 feet, while others can sprawl upwards of 25 feet or more. They grow well as an understudy plant to the towering oaks and pines.
Leaves are thick and leathery and flowers vary in shades of red, white, pink and purple, amongst others. Safe to say, just mentioning this plant is a mouthful.
Did I give it away? Submit your final guess.
Bingo, you nailed it! Let’s chat about rhododendrons.
The rhododendron is a great addition to most garden beds. Often purchased from a market, I prefer to grow mine from seed. It takes a little time and nurturing, but well worth the effort. The gorgeous rhododendron flowers are the epitome of springtime blossoms.
For starters, plant your seeds in a small, drainable container. Place loose moss over the top of the soil, to imitate its natural habitat. Germination takes roughly 2 weeks and no sun is required for this process. As soon as your plant sprouts, sun is mandatory. After a month or two, leaves start to form and at this point, you’ll want to replant into a larger pot, so the roots can expand.
My general rule for watering new plants is to wet them every day for the first few weeks. It doesn’t require a great deal of water, just enough to moisten the soil. After a month or so, you can scale back watering to every other day, just add a little more water to these sessions. After growing in a pot for about 1 year, I’d say the plant is ready for the big stage, your garden! Find a sunny spot with some wind coverage and settle them in.
Collecting seeds can be a fun hobby. After the flower has passed, you will notice seed pods form. Pick off a pod and place it in a container, or envelope. In a few weeks, the pod should open up, releasing hundreds of seeds. Envelopes make a great container because you can label them easily.
The rhododendron has many practical uses. The hardwood makes utensils strong and durable.
- Wood can be carved into various culinary tools like spoons, bowls and handles for sharp knives.
- Also an excellent source of fuel for a wood stove. The charcoal from rhododendron wood retains heat really well.
- The strong, slender trunks make them great as fencing material.
Modern medicine has yet to recognize the true potential for many plants in our ecosystem. Rhododendron flowers have been used in traditional medicines across Asia, Europe and America for centuries. You’ll be hard-pressed to find them in the text books.
- Flowers are boiled in a tea, which can relieve inflammation in the bladder or kidneys.
- Rhododendron tea also helps give skin a youthful appearance, with a natural glow.
- Referred to as rhodo juice. You want boil water with clean flowers in it. Once the water boils, turn it off and let simmer.
- Rhododendron juice is good for the heart and circulatory system.
The rhododendron is a toxic plant. Humans, cats, dogs, livestock, birds and insects all fall victim to the poisonous effects of consuming this plant. Luckily it’s rarely fatal in humans. The leaves cause a burning sensation inside the mouth. An unfortunate circumstance for anything trying to nibble on the leaves.
Side effects can include nausea or vomiting, it could also cause dizziness or fatigue. In some cases blurred vision may occur. Consult with your doctor or veterinarian if you, or your pet, should accidentally consume any part of this plant.
As our journey comes to an end, we leave you with a few, customary fun facts.
Leaves on the evergreen species curl up in winter. This prevents wind burn by limiting the surface area of the exposed leaves. A pretty ingenious idea!
Both the state of West Virginia and Washington have adopted the rhododendron as their state flower. Great choice!
Aside from the beauty, the main reason the rhododendron is so special, is because it’s my wife’s favorite flower. Happy wife, happy life.
See ya next time!