Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Catawba Rhododendron - Rhododendron catawbiense   Michaux
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Section 6 » Order Ericales » Family Ericaceae
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AuthorMichaux
DistributionNearly throughout the mountains and the highest parts of the Piedmont foothills; also disjunct far eastward to the eastern Piedmont and adjacent Coastal Plain – east to Nash and Johnston counties. Absent from most of the central Piedmont, as well as nearly all of the Coastal Plain (including the Sandhills). May be absent from the extreme southwestern counties, as these (Cherokee, Clay, and Graham) are mostly low elevations; however, it does occur much farther southward and at lower elevations in AL.

This is a southern Appalachian endemic, ranging northward only to WV and western VA. It ranges southward to northeastern AL.
AbundanceCommon over most of the mountains, but very rare or absent in the extreme southwestern counties. Rare to locally uncommon in the foothills, and also rare and local in the Fall Line counties, where limited to steep north-facing slopes and bluffs.
HabitatIt is found mostly at higher elevations (over 4000 feet) in rocky summits, heath balds, and upper slope and mountaintop forests, but also can occur at lower elevations on cooler forested slopes, always on acidic soils. In the Piedmont and upper Coastal Plain it is limited to the cool microclimates of steep, north-facing bluffs.
See also Habitat Account for General Rhododendron Thickets and Balds
PhenologyNear the Fall Line it blooms from late April to mid-May; however, at higher elevations it bloom mostly from mid-May to late June. The peak bloom at Roan Mountain is around June 15-25. It fruits from July to October.
IdentificationThis is a large evergreen shrub, usually 5-20’ tall, often wider than tall. It can form fairly dense thickets. It is easily identified by its leaves, which are rounded at both ends and with somewhat parallel sides; the similar R. maximum has narrower leaves that are wider toward the tip and are gradually tapered to the base. Catawba Rhododendron has very large rose to magenta flowers, making it arguably the showiest of the state’s shrubs when in bloom – as witnessed by the large crowds that flock to Roan Mountain each June.
Taxonomic CommentsA few references consider the disjunct Fall Line population as a separate, but unnamed, variety. However, this taxonomy seems not be popular at the present time; Weakley (2018) lists no varieties, whereas NatureServe does.

Other Common Name(s)Mountain Rosebay, Catawba Rosebay, Purple Rhododendron, Purple Laurel, Rosebay Laurel, and several others.
State RankS5
Global RankG5
State StatusW6
US Status
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