Pacific Rhodendron by Randy SmithPhoto by Randy Smith

Fast Facts

  • Designated the state flower by the Washington Legislature in 1959
  • Botanical name: Rhododendron macrophyllum
  • Also called the Pacific Rhododendron or Big Leaf Rhododendron
  • Rhododendrons are nicknamed “rhodies”
  • Coast Rhododendron trivia: Approximately 90% of the world’s rhododendrons are found in southeastern Asia.
  • Washington Flower Delivery

The fact that women in Washington state (along with the rest of America) had no legal right to vote didn’t stop them from organizing a statewide election in 1892 to select the Washington state flower. Eager to display a flower that would represent their state at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, more than 15,000 women cast a ballot in the election, choosing between the clover and the coast rhododendron. When the votes were tabulated, the coast rhododendron emerged the winner. In 1959, the state legislature officially sanctioned the flowering evergreen shrub as the Washington state flower.

The coast rhododendron remains prized in the Evergreen State. It enjoys protection from being picked in the wild where it grows naturally along forest edges and in clearings created by tree falls and fires.

Washington’s state flower is typically 6-8 feet tall at maturity, though it can reach heights of 20-30 feet. The plant’s dark green leaves are oblong-shaped and extend between 3-6 inches long and 1-3 inches wide. In springtime, the plant issues forth a colorful array of large, tubular blossoms. The flowers range in color from pale pink to darker pink, and occasionally, white.

Rhododendron macrophyllum by Robert DunningPhoto by Robert Dunning

While it may be Washington’s state flower, the coast rhododendron’s range extends beyond the state’s borders. It reaches north into British Columbia and as far south as Monterey, California.

Within the state, coast rhododendrons are commonly found in coastal regions. Seattle and Tacoma flower enthusiasts can find their state flower along both sides of the Hood Canal from April to June where it is visible along trail edges and highways. To the south, the plants have been located in the Wind River region, east of Vancouver.

The Washington state flower is also found in isolated regions of the Cascade Mountain Range where it can survive in elevations up to 4,000 feet. However, if residents of Spokane and other eastern Washington cities wish to see the state flower in person, they must travel to do so; the coast rhododendron is not found east of the Cascade Mountains.

Despite its natural beauty, rhododendron leaves and flowers contain toxic substances. Humans or wildlife should ingest no part of the plant. Grazing sheep can become ill or even die as a result of eating rhododendron clippings.

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