Rhododendron carolinianum

Carolina Rhododendron




  • the mountains of North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee
  • zone 5 (zone 4 with proper location)

Habit and Form

  • upright and spreading with a rounded shape
  • old plants can become more irregular in outline
  • relatively dense foliage
  • broadleaf evergreen
  • grows slowly
  • reaches 3' to 5' tall under most conditions

Summer Foliage

  • leaves are thick, leathery, evergreen
  • elliptical shape
  • 2" to 3" long, 0.75" to 1.5" wide
  • underside of leaves brown-dotted with small scales
  • glossy, dark green leaf surface
  • petioles often reddish-brown
  • stems are red, purple, and green
  • leaves aromatic when bruised/damaged
  • alternate leaf arrangement with leaves clustered at apex

Autumn Foliage

  • no fall color, evergreen
  • oldest whorls of leaves turn yellow and shed


  • blooms in mid-May, after Rhododendron 'PJM', but before most large-leaved rhododendrons
  • individual flowers are 1.5" across
  • borne in clusters of 5 to 10 flowers, 3" diameter
  • color varies from pale pink to dark pink
  • flower buds are 2 to 3 times size of vegetative buds.


  • dehiscent capsule
  • not ornamentally important


  • older wood has gray brown bark
  • usually obscured by foliage


  • best in light shade from a high canopy
  • can tolerate full sun in some locations
  • avoid harsh windswept sites
  • moist, well-drained, cool, acidic soils are best
  • likes high organic matter in the soil

Landscape Use

  • in groupings and mass plantings
  • shrub borders
  • foundation plant
  • for decoration
  • shaded sites


  • Leaves curl (roll up like cigar) in temperatures below approx. 25o F to conserve moisture. Leaves unroll when temperatures warm up.
  • phytophthora root rot in wet, heavy soils
  • winter foliage desiccation in harsh sites
  • chlorosis on high pH soils

ID Features

  • broadleaf evergreen
  • medium-sized leaves (larger than R. 'PJM')
  • leaves scaly and brown-dotted on the underside
  • pink flowers in mid-May


  • by seed
  • cultivars by late summer, fall or winter-collected cuttings
  • also cultivars by tissue culture


'Album' - This selection has nearly white flowers with buds that may be slightly tinged pink.

'Carolina Gold' - The flowers of this cultivar are yellowish-white, especially as they age. The flowers are not true yellow, however.

'Luteum' - Light yellowish flowers are produced on this plant, but they are not truly yellow.

'White Perfection' - The light pink buds of this cultivar open to reveal white blooms. It grows more compact than the species and blooms heavily and at an early age. The foliage is handsome, lustrous green.

© Copyright Mark H. Brand, 1997-2015.

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Citation and Acknowledgements: University of Connecticut Plant Database, http://hort.uconn.edu/plants, Mark H. Brand, Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, Storrs, CT 06269-4067 USA.