Rhododendron Maximum - West Virginia / by sam taylor


Good Friday Morning!

Rhodo.  It was hard for me to imagine that this nearly ubiquitous plant in West Virginia didn't live everywhere when I was a kid.  I imagined that every riverbank or shady hillside everywhere in the world was covered with this stuff, like kudzu, because that's how it grows here.  As it turns out, R. Maximum is a native of Appalachia, and other than garden transplants, doesn't grow anywhere else in the world.

There is something about this that I find both romantic, and almost comically predictable.  A remarkably tough organism that thrives in rocky, shady, acidic places, and comes together in thickets so dense that they were notable impediments to the exploration and passage of these mountains.  That it grows so thick, so impenetrable to outsiders, that they called them "laurel hells".  That all sounds familiar, for some reason. 

Did you know R. Maximum is poisonous to eat?  Did you know honey made from flowers is called "mad honey", because of the compounds in it?  (seriously)

I guess I get into all of this because rhododendron is a character in the story for so many of our adventures - it's the green in our winter images, it's the barrier to our travel (even today), its part of the "smell" of the woods, especially after a rain, and when it blooms on the mountains, there is no denying that it is one of the crown jewels of the forest.

I know that in a few short months, folks will be taking pictures of the blooms (I may be one of them), but in my mind, this is what it looks like.  Wet, glossy, and forever.  Part of this place.

Hope folks have a great weekend! 

Rhododendron Maximum - West Virginia