Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Cumberland Azalea - Rhododendron cumberlandense   E.L. Braun
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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AuthorE.L. Braun
DistributionOccurs in the southern Mountains, northeast to Madison and Henderson counties. Most current records are from Macon, Jackson, and Swain counties. In the state, generally found over 4000 feet in elevation.

This is a southern Appalachian endemic, with a bit of an unusual range. It occurs north to eastern KY and southwestern VA (most counties), yet there are no records for the northern NC mountains or the northeastern TN corner. It ranges south to northern GA and eastern AL. As Weakley (2018) notes, its range lies mainly west of the Blue Ridge, and it is most widespread in the Ridge and Valley and the Cumberland Mountains/Plateau physiographic provinces.
AbundanceRare and not well known in the state. Because of its similarity to Flame Azalea (R. calendulaceum), it is perhaps overlooked. Also, RAB (1968) and many more recent books and references do not show this as a good species and thus for many years it likely was not searched for by botanists. This is a State Significantly Rare species, as identified by the NC NHP.
HabitatThis species is mostly restricted to heath balds and high elevation forests (mainly oak-dominated) and margins, including margins of grass balds. Thus, it favors sunny or partly sunny habitats and occurs in more exposed sites than is usual for Flame Azalea.
See also Habitat Account for General Rhododendron Thickets and Balds
PhenologyBlooms after the leaves are fully expanded, in June and July; fruits from July to October.
IdentificationThis is a deciduous shrub very similar in stature and appearance to Flame Azalea, and it can and does grow in similar places, though Cumberland Azalea favors somewhat more exposed sites (often not under a canopy), such as heath balds. However, this 6-15-foot tall shrub can be identified, with care(!), by its smoother twigs, its more scarlet-red flowers (not quite as orange as Flame Azalea), and the fact that the flowers are in bloom well after the leaves are fully grown – often not until later in June or July. Weakley (2018) also indicates that this species is slightly to strongly stoloniferous, and thus can occur in colonies, as opposed to the singly-growing Flame Azalea. Even so, in NC most sites contain very small populations.
Taxonomic CommentsFormerly named Rhododendron bakeri. Often not split out from R. calendulaceum by many references until later in the 20th Century.

Other Common Name(s)Cumberland Rhododendron
State RankS1
Global RankG4?
State StatusSR-P
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