Rhododendrons were first described in Rhododendron hirsutum by Charles de l'Écluse in the sixteenth century.
The name rhododendron means “rose tree”.
In 1901, records show the outgoing Governor George Atkinson praising the attractive and ubiquitous flowering plant: “I know none more beautiful and none more common in West Virginia, than the Rhododendron.” Lawmakers named the Rhododendron West Virginia’s state flower in 1903 after an overwhelming majority vote of the state’s school children along with the Governor’s recommendation.
Rhododendrons are extremely common in West Virginia as well as throughout the eastern United States. The fragrant shrubs, which are members of the heath family, grow in almost every region of the state except for in its westernmost counties.
West Virginia’s state flower flourishes on ravines, hillsides and under thick tree canopies of hemlock and maples. The perennials’ success is partly due to its ability to thrive in various conditions including sun and dense shade.
West Virginia’s state flower can also grow to be quite wide and high. Though the average height is approximately 15 feet, some can reach 40 feet (thus the “maximum” in the plant’s botanical name).
Every year in July, Rhododendrons bloom with pink or white flower clusters. Each cluster contains up to 25 flowers and provides an attractive contrast to the Rhododendron’s dark evergreen foliage. The pretty blooms of the Rhododendron also attract hummingbirds and butterflies.
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