Plant of The Week: Western Azalea

The Western Azalea, available at Elkhorn Native Plant Nursery, makes a gorgeously scented and showy addition to any landscape. And it's a California native, so the birds and bees like it, too.

by Samantha Chavez

Nov. 20, 2015—Californians know how to put on a show, and that extends to our native plants too. The Rhododendron occidentale (Western Azalea) is a native and drought-tolerant shrub that’s a great addition to any garden. The trumpet-shaped flowers welcome the spring with a fragrant fanfare that, according to Rob de Bree of Elkhorn Native Plant Nursery, is one of the few examples from the plant kingdom where “it seems everyone likes the scent.”

The clusters of flowers are often white to pink with an orange to yellow dot accenting the inside of the trumpet. The deciduous leaves turn red or yellow in the fall and drop to the ground, leaving a bare shrub for part of the year. De Bree provides an easy aesthetic fix: “I always personally like if you make a mix of evergreen and deciduous.” This way the evergreen leaves cover up the naked shrub until spring, he explains. However, de Bree advises giving them some space. “They can get large over time, although they are not fast growers. I would put them in a yard with a little bit of space so they can grow.”

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This tough shrub can grow in the wild in serpentine soil. Serpentine soil is often bereft of plants, as the nutrient content is far too low for healthy plants to grow. Yet these hardy shrubs can thrive there, and de Bree notes that this is evidence that “the rhododendron is flexible, you don’t need to worry about, ‘Oh, what is my soil like?’ because they’re pretty forgiving.” The Rhododendron occidentale is a shrub that, once settled into a garden, will bring years of perfumed springs and showy flowers.

You can buy it at Elkhorn Native Plant Nursery, which is open to the public on Fridays.

Elkhorn Native Plant Nursery: 1957B Highway 1, Moss Landing. 831.763.1207