Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
from the July 17, 2005 Newsletter issued from the Sierra Nevada foothills
somewhat east of Placerville, California, USA
AZALEAS TO MAKE THE HEAD SPIN
All around the grassy area (kept mowed by six black cows who come to drink at dusk, clanging their tin bells) grew dozens of shoulder-high Western Azaleas, RHODODENDRON OCCIDENTALE.
Azaleas here aren't as conspicuous in the forest understory as in much of the US Southeast. Just in Mississippi we had five species, some of them really spectacular. In much larger California we have just two species, and I only see this one occasionally, along streams and on moist slopes. The species is deciduous and produces bell-shaped flowers nearly 2 inches long, with the 5 stamens and the slender style protruding far beyond the corolla. Though I read that pinkish blossoms sometimes appear I've only seen white ones, and every white blossom, on its upper lobe, bears a conspicuous yellow splotch. You can see all this in the image at www.gartendatenbank.de/pflanzen/rhododendron/100.htm
The page linked to above is a German one, which shows that this species is attractive enough to be special even to foreigners.
What the pretty picture at that site in Germany can't portray, however, is the heavenly fragrance dozens of Western Azaleas in full bloom emit along a quiet little mountain stream at dusk on an evening such as that. After I'd visited my Chickarees and crawled back into the tent I just lay there in the growing darkness getting dizzy on azalea perfume.