Elegant shrubs related to rhodo- dendron, with showy flower clusters. Each long flower stalk bears a small bud resembling a fluted turban; buds open to chalice-shaped blooms with
\five starlike points. Plants share rhododendron's need for moist air and rich, well-drained, acid soil. Tolerate shade but bloom much better in part sun (provided soil does not dry out). Challenging for most people to grow.
K. angustifolia. SHEEP LAUREL, LAMBKILL. Zones US; USDA 6. Native to high elevations in eastern states from Georgia to Virginia. Ground cover or shrub, to 13 ft. (rarely 5 ft.) tall and 5 ft. wide. Spreads by self-layering (branches root where they touch the ground). Dark green leaves are leathery, oblong to pointed-oval, to 212 in. long. Rose-pink to purplish crimson flowers, 12 in. across, bloom in clusters in early summer. 'Candida' has white flowers, 'Rubra' dark purple blossoms.
K. latifolia. MOUNTAIN LAUREL. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Native to eastern North America from Canada to Florida, west across the Appalachians into states drained by the Ohio and Mississippi river systems. Southern forms of plant grow better in the Lower and Coastal South; those from more northerly seed sources grow better in the Upper and Middle South. Success also depends on plant source. Named selections are unlikely to perform well in all zones listed.
Slow growing to 68 ft. or taller, with equal spread. Glossy, leathery, oval leaves are 35 in. long, dark green above, yellowish green beneath. Blooms in late spring; typically bears 1-in.-wide, light pink flowers opening from darker pink buds, but blossoms often have subtly different color in their throats and may have contrasting stamens. Flowers held in clusters to 5 in. across.
Dozens of named selections are available. Examples include the following:
Those with flowers marked in contrasting colors include 'Freckles', white with spots and splashes of purplish red; and 'Bullseye', which has cream-colored blossoms with white and purple-red markings in throat, white edge, and broad, purple-red band around the insidenew foliage is reddish. 'Keepsake' has burgundy blooms with a thin white edge.
Red-budded selections include 'Firecracker', 'Nathan Hale', and 'Olympic Fire', which all have pink flowers; and 'Sarah', with reddish pink flowers.
'Pristine' is a white-flowered selection; 'Snowdrift' is white with faint red markings.
Dwarf selections (to 3 ft. in 10 years) include 'Elf', with pink buds opening to white flowers; 'Minuet', light pink buds opening to white flowers with a maroon ring inside; and 'Tinkerbell', whose pink buds open to deep pink flowers.