Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Rosebay Rhododendron - Rhododendron maximum   L.
Members of Ericaceae:
Members of Rhododendron with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 6 » Order Ericales » Family Ericaceae
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DistributionThroughout the Mountains and the western half of the Piedmont, sparingly eastward to Caswell, Davidson, and Mecklenburg counties. Absent from the Triangle area (Orange, Durham, Wake) and counties eastward, including the Coastal Plain.

This is one of the relatively few Northern Rhododendron species, occurring from NB and ME southwestward, mainly in the Appalachians and adjacent ranges to the west. It occurs south only to northwestern SC, northern GA, and barely to northeastern AL.
AbundanceVery common to abundant in the Mountains and foothills. Mostly uncommon in the central Piedmont, often limited to cool, north-facing slopes and bluffs. Interestingly, it does not occur close to the Fall Line, whereas the normally higher-ranging Catawba Rhododendron (R. catawbiense) has disjunct populations in this warmer and lower region of the state.
HabitatIt occurs in a wide variety of forests over acidic soils, and it is especially dominant – the most common shrub – in cool, shaded forested ravines and lower slopes, especially so along rocky streams. It favors moist soils, and it also occurs in bogs, swampy ground, and other wetlands. In the Piedmont it is limited mainly to cool north-facing slopes and bluffs. It occurs mainly below 3500 feet in elevation, but it does occur much higher.
PhenologyA rather late-blooming ericad, not in bloom until June to early August, peaking in July. Fruits in September and October.
IdentificationThis is a very familiar large evergreen shrub – some authorities consider it also as a small tree owing to its height – that grows mostly 10-20 feet tall and typically much broader. Its long leaves that are wider above the middle and tapering gradually to the base are enough for identification. Its large flowers are paler in color than are those of Catawba Rhododendron, mostly a pale pink to a waxy white (but not bright white) in color. As most people know, the species can occur in dense “monoculture” stands on many montane slopes, almost to the exclusion of other shrubs or herbaceous plants.
Taxonomic CommentsNone

Other Common Name(s)This shrub has a great array of common names, with none truly dominant. Great Laurel is often used, but it is not a “laurel”, but neither is Mountain Laurel; laurels are members of the Family Lauraceae – such as (in NC) the redbay species (Persea), the spicebush species (Lindera), and Sassafras (Sassafras albidum). Other common names include Great Rosebay and Great Rhododendron.
State RankS5
Global RankG5
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B.A. SorrieRoadside woods, flank of Table Rock. 1 July 2020. BurkePhoto_natural
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