The Gregory Bald Hybrid Azaleas
by Donald W. Hyatt


The native azalea hybrids on the top of Gregory Bald in the Great Smokey Mountains put on a magnificent display in late June. This natural garden was at one time crossed by the Appalacian Trail, but quite a few years ago the trail was rerouted in that area, so now it is a side trip. Entering from Cade's Cove, there are two trails to Gregory: the recently reopened Parson's Branch access via Hannah Trail which is a moderate hike, and the longer approach via Forge Creek which is more beautiful, but a bit more difficult. The author has written an article published in the Journal of the American Rhododendron Society about his experiences hiking to Gregory via the Forge Creek Trail. The web version has more pictures but carries the same title: Return to Gregory Bald.

The diversity in flower color seen among azaleas on Gregory is considered to be the result of a natural hybrid swarm of at least four native species including R. arborescens, R. viscosum, R. cumberlandense, and R. calendulaceum. Almost every color associated with modern Knap Hill and Exbury hybrids can be seen there including white, through blush pink to rose, to yellow, orange, salmon, coral, red, and fuchsia. It is interesting to note that when R. arborescens and calendulaceum are the only two species present, such as on Wayah Bald or other spots in the Smokies, there seems to be little hybridization. This is probably due to some genetic incompatibilities because arborescens is diploid having the normal number of chromosomes, but calendulaceum is tetraploid having twice the number. Any hybrids that might result would likely be triploid and thus sterile.

It is speculated that when another diploid species such as cumberlandense or viscosum is introduced, the first generation hybrids of the diploids are fertile, but they also produce unreduced gametes in their pollen which then can now cross with calendulaceum producing fertile progeny. Actual chromosome studies would be required to support this hypothesis, though. In most hybrid swarms involving R. calendulaceum, at least three azalea species seem to be involved.

The following images were taken by the author on Gregory Bald, and the reference names used by members of the species study group of the Middle Atlantic Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society are included. Other naturalists who frequent Gregory will likely have their own pet names for these clones, but we will all recognize these spectacular plants in one another's photographs. Please do not disturb these very special azaleas that have evolved on this mountain top. They are a natural treasure that needs to be preserved.

Special Hybrids on Gregory

Gregory Blush

Gregory Blush

Gregory Christmas Red

Gregory Christmas Red

Gregory Salmon Ball

Gregory Salmon Ball

Gregory Candy Stripe

Gregory Candy Stripe

Other Favorite Clones

Hannah Trail Coral

Gregory Star

Rattlesnake Cream

Gregory Fuchsia

Gregory Goldilocks

Gregory Cover Girl

Gregory Far Side Pink

Gregory White

Gregory Late Yellow

Gregory Fasty Pink
For another page of images identifying other clones, take a look at Gregory Hybrids - Part 2
Additional notes from my trip to Gregory and other spots can be found at Smokies in June 2000.

The images on this page were taken by the author, Donald W. Hyatt.

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Copyright © 2001 Donald W. Hyatt


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

West Coast Native Azaleas
R. occidentale

Identifying the Native Azaleas

Don's Azalea Web Pages

Other Related Links

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