Rhododendron vaseyi, the rare Pinkshell azalea, is one of the first species to bloom in the spring. Its delicate pink to white flowers are typically flat-faced, about 1.5 to 2.25 inches across, and have some prominent spotting in the throat. Pink-shell azalea is among the first and most beautiful spring-flowering native azaleas to bloom with masses of light pink bell-shaped flowers on leafless stems. This deciduous, irregular rounded shrub reaches 8-12’ tall (with time) and grows best in filtered shade to full sun where soils are well-drained and acidic. In autumn, its foliage is transformed from bright green to an intense display of orange and red, thus igniting the garden with color. It is a splendid border shrub to combine with Rhododendron minus, Pieris floribunda, Kalmia latifolia and Leucothoe fontanesiana or used in masses with Mertensia virginica, Polystichum acrostichoides, Trillium and Stylophorum diphyllum.
Adapted from: Mt. Cuba Center
Discovered by George Vasey in 1878, this native azalea has a relatively restricted natural habitat in four mountainous counties of North Carolina. Growing at elevations of 3000 to 5500 feet in high elevation heath meadows, bogs & spruce forests, plants can be seen in bloom along the Blue Ridge Parkway in early spring. It has a disjunct population in Massachussets, probably the result of escaped plantings.
In the wild, this species grows in acidic moist and wet substrates near bogs and streams. It may occur alongside other types of Rhododendron, such as Rhododendron maximum. The understory is made up of many ericaceous species such as Vaccinium spp. and Leucothoe. The plant can often be found in areas of the forest that have been recently cleared by logging operations.
R. vaseyi makes an excellent garden plant.