We’re in the middle of peak fall foliage here in Portland. It’s fantastic. One of my favorite shrubs with great fall foliage in our yard is this one:
I think it is in the rhododendron/azalea family because of it’s blooms (you can see some spent blooms and some new buds forming in the photos below), but the leaves and branches don’t seem like classic rhody to me.
As it turns out, this shrub is a Flame Azalea, aka Rhododendron calendulaceum. Is it a rhododendron or an azalea? Both! Azaleas are in the rhododendron genus (all azaleas are rhododendrons, but not all rhododendrons are azaleas). Unlike “classic” rhododendrons, they can be deciduous and they have a slightly different flower structure.
Flame Azalea gets its common name from the bright orange flowers it has in the spring (there are also non-orange varieties), but I think the name also suits its bright fall foliage. It is actually native to the Appalachian Mountains, which I found surprising. In my mind, rhododendrons are strongly associated with the Pacific Northwest. In fact, the genus rhododendron actually contains over 1200 natural (i.e. wild, non-hybrid) species, and the species are spread out across Asia, North America, and Europe, with most being found in Asia. The rhododendron native the the Pacific Northwest is Rhododendron macrophyllum. Rhododendron macrophyllum is also the state flower of Washington.
It has fantastic blooms in the fall, wonderful fall foliage, and the lichen-covered branches are beautiful in the winter – a wonderful shrub all-around.