A rhododendron plant is any tree or shrub that is classified under the Rhododendron genus. In biology, the genus is the major subdivision of the family, which is the Ericaceae family for rhododendrons. The name rhododendron comes from the Greek words rhodon, meaning rose, and dendron, meaning tree. Rhododendrons usually have two pollen-producing organs per lobe and leathery leaves; most are evergreens that have a bush- or shrub-like appearance with colorful flowers that vary from one plant to another. Most rhododenron plants bloom during different stages of the standard blooming season, which is May or June in the United States (US).
Due to their ability to thrive in many climates and soil conditions, there are thousands of species of rhododendrons and rhododendron hybrids that may be found in various locations throughout the world. Australia, New Guinea, Thailand, and India are all countries that are home to at least one type of rhododendron or hybrid. These plants are also quite common in the US. The Rhododendron maximum is the state flower of West Virginia and the Rhododendron macrophyllum is the state flower of Washington.
To successfully raise a rhododendron plant, a person will typically need to choose a plant that thrives in the region in which he or she lives. The growing process may be started with a seed or by transplanting a fully grown bush. Starting from a seed may initially appear easier, but it takes longer to produce results; some seeds take up to 10 years to grow into a flower-producing bush. Generally, the most important thing for a person to remember when attempting to grow a rhododendron plant is to protect it from harsh sunlight. Since these plants thrive in moist soil, too much exposure to sun can dry the soil and leaves and inhibit growth.
For rhododendron enthusiasts, a variety of clubs and organizations have been established around the world to network and exchange information about the popular plant. One such organization is the American Rhododendron Society (ARS), which has established chapters in the US, Holland, Sweden, Canada, Denmark, and Scotland. Activities available to members of ARS include flower shows, information exchanges, seed exchanges, and educational seminars.
There are numerous uses for rhododendron plants beyond aesthetic value. Some types of rhododendrons have been used to relieve a number of ailments, such as headaches, diarrhea, and the common cold. Also, some rhododendron stems are used for firewood and even converted to coal for fuel.
Despite the popularity and usefulness of the rhododendron plant, it can threaten certain ecosystems where it is not native. For example, some horticulturists claim that parts of Britain and Ireland have been introduced to a non-native species of rhododendron called Rhododendron ponticum. Due to the prolific growing nature of this particular rhododendron, it may keep native plant life from the resources necessary to thrive.