Encounter a phenomenon that occurs nowhere else on Earth when visiting Grandfather Mountain in May to witness the blooming of the rare and endangered pink-shell azalea! Native only to the NC High Country, the world’s largest population of this globally endangered pink azalea blooms on Grandfather Mountain during the month of May.
New green leaves will just be reaching the slopes of Grandfather Mountain in mid-May when the pastel pink-shell Azalea vaseyi (vay-zee-eye) bursts upon the scene. Clouds of exquisite blossoms make their way up Grandfather’s slopes from May 10-25, blooming in mass at overlooks just inside the park early in May and opening in profusion across the high peaks later in the month.
The shrub was discovered in 1878 by George Vasey, the first director of the US National Herbarium. The Azalea vaseyi can be found in four mountainous counties of North Carolina and grows in spruce fir forests at elevations between 3,000 and 5,500 feet. It is considered globally endangered because there are fewer than 100 communities of the shrub known to exist on the planet, and the world’s largest population grows on the slopes of Grandfather Mountain.
One of the hardy American rhododendrons, very shade tolerant, also tolerant of soil compaction, poor drainage, and floods. It demands wet to moist growing conditions and strongly to moderately acid soil reaction (4.5-6.0). However, once established, pink shell azalea can tolerate a wide variety of conditions and even survive droughts. Having been cultivated in the Arnold Arboretum since 1880, it proved to be hardy in Boston and is valued for cultivation all over the USA and in Europe. The flowers are frost resistant, so that it is successfully grown in Scandinavia.