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The Great Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) is a member of the Ericaceae or Heath family. It is an erect woody shrub which can grow to more that 20-feet tall. The leaves are alternate, evergreen and leathery with a smooth upper surface and hairy beneath. They grow from 4- to 12-inches in length and 1- to 3-inches wide. The flowers, which are about 1.5-inches wide, are borne in clusters at the end of the branch tips. They are tubular with 5 rounded lobes, white in color (sometimes pink as shown in the image above), with the largest lobe spotted with green, yellow or orange. Found in moist or wet woodlands throughout the eastern US and adjacent Canadian provinces south through Georgia and Alabama. It flowers in June and July. This image was made in early August and as can be seen the plant is almost at the peak of its bloom. This is due to the unique climatic conditions of Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia.
A close relative of the Great Rhododendron, although only growing to half its size, is the Catawba Rhododendron which many of you may recognize, as it has been somewhat domesticated and is found in many parks and gardens throughout the eastern US.