Rhododendron vaseyi (pinkshell azalea) is a deciduous, upright narrow shrub that can grow to 5 meters in height with appealing erect branches. Scentless, pinkish white flowers begin blooming in April and are thought to attract hummingbirds. This peculiar endemic of the Blue Ridge was found in 1878 in western North Carolina. The first plant was acquired for cultivation by the Arnold Arboretum in 1880.
Known from over thirty-five occurrences, the plant is threatened by development in the mountains, plant collecting, and the damming of mountain streams.
As part of its commitment to the Center for Plant Conservation, the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University maintains and develops its collection of Rhododendron vaseyi. Their primary goal is to preserve the highest level of intraspecific diversity as is practicable and provide access to researchers, educators, and the general public.
In 2018, their Rhododendron vaseyi collection includes: 26 accessions representing 26 distinct lineages, 4 plants growing in our nursery, and 41 plants growing outdoors in the living collections. Each plant within an accession is maintained individually, separated by provenance, and their placement in the landscape (10 distinct locations within the 281 acre landscape) ensures individual populations/genetics remain separate.
The conservation experts at CPC participating institutions such as the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University share their in-depth conservation expertise about rare plants through CPC’s National Collection Plant Profiles.
Pink Azalea photo credit: Tom Ward