Every summer, visitors to the Blue Ridge Mountains are treated to a stunning show of color, courtesy of thousands of blooming rhododendrons. Called the “King of Shrubs,” the rhododendron loves high altitudes; it’s the national flower of Nepal and a familiar sight in the Southern Appalachians, where blossoms of white, pink, red, and purple paint the tallest slopes in the eastern United States. Its name means “rose tree,” but Southerners will note its resemblance to the azalea, a rhododendron subspecies. Craggy Gardens, located 20 miles from Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway, is a popular spot to take in the eye-catching blooms (along with spectacular sunsets and sunrises). This area is also home to long-running festivals celebrating the native plant: The North Carolina Rhododendron Festival in Bakersville and the Roan Mountain Rhododendron Festival in Tennessee both celebrate 75th anniversaries this June.
This article appears in the Spring & Summer 2022 issue of Southbound.