Plant of the Month – R. occidentale – Western Azalea

Text and photos by Don Wallace

Originally published June, 2010 (a serious throwback!)

Plant of the Month: R. occidentale – Western Azalea. This is the only species of Azalea that is found west of The Rocky Mountains. It was discovered by the expedition of Capt. Beechy in 1827 and called A. calendulacea. Later in 1855, the plant was recognized as a distinct species A. californica, but a year later changed to A. occidentale. The species is found growing in isolated populations from southern California to parts of Oregon and Washington. This species has been found associated with soils having a high concentration of serpentine. The species can grow as large as 15 ft. tall, and blooms in late May and into June. It is hardy to -12 F and is quite fragrant with the perfume being detected many yards away. It is generally unsuccessful in regions of the country with warm humid summers.

One of the largest stands of R. occidentale is here in Humboldt County on Stagecoach Hill just above Big Lagoon. Many collectors from all over the U.S. come every year to photograph this beautiful species and to collect seed. There have been many unique forms found, including “Pistil Packin‟ Mama‟, “Leonard Frisbie‟, and “Picotee‟.