Rhododendron cumberlandense


Rhododendron cumberlandense (synonymous with R. bakeri ) is commonly known as the Cumberland Azalea. It has a relatively isolated natural range on the Cumberland Plateau in Kentucky south to Tennessee and the mountains of Georgia, Alabama, and North Carolina. The flowers are not large, about 1.5 to 1.75 inches across, and typically range from yellowish-orange to deep red. This species is sometimes difficult to distinguish from the larger flowered R. calendulaceum, but the blossoms generally appear several weeks later after the leaves have fully expanded and the undersides of the leaves are usually waxy white or bluish in color.

The species distinction for R. cumberlandense was first described by Lemon and McKay in 1937. This native azalea makes an excellent landscape plant in its own right, but it also hybridizes easily with many of the other species, producing beautiful hybrids in a broad range of colors. Many of the brightly colored forms in the hybrid swarm of native azales on Gregory Bald probably contain R. cumberlandense genes.

Distribution Map

Plants in the Wild


Blount Co., TN
(Gregory Bald)

Blount Co., TN
(Hannah Mt. Trail)

Towns Co., GA
(Tray Mt. Wilderness)

Swain Co., NC
(Gregory Bald)

Variations in Flower Form


Blount Co., TN
(Gregory Bald)

Towns Co., GA
(Tray Mt. Wilderness)

Blount Co., TN
(Gregory Bald)

Monroe Co., TN
(Cherohala Skyway)
Sad Note: When visiting this exceptionally beautiful plant again in June, 2000, we discovered a hole in the ground instead of the azalea. Please leave plants in the wild so others can appreciate their beauty. There was a broken branch left on the trail that I hope to root so I can return the plant to its proper home one day. If it roots, we can introduce it as "Red Robber", "Caught Red Handed", or some other appropriate name.
The images presented here are reproduced with permission from color slides taken by the Species Study Group of the Middle Atlantic Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society. The slides are numbered, and correspond to the sequence used in the program Eastern Native Azalea Species presented by George K. McLellan at the East Coast Regional Conference of the ARS in November 1999.


East Coast Native Azaleas
R. vaseyi
R. canadense
R. canescens
R. austrinum
R. flammeum
R. periclymenoides
R. alabamense
R. atlanticum
R. calendulaceum
R. prinophyllum
R. viscosum
R. arborescens
R. cumberlandense
R. prunifolium
R. eastmanii

Identifying the Native Azaleas