Mystery mountain rhodie blooms again

There’s a renegade rhododendron in full bloom again in the mountains.
   I say “renegade” because it seems so out of place, growing at 1,800 feet elevation in the Cascades alongside I-90. If you look at the north side of westbound exit 42 for Tinkham Road, you’ll see it right now.
   I've long suspected somebody planted it there for reasons unknown. After all, the Pacific Rhododendron – Washington’s state flower – is sensitive to cold and thrives best in the mild Northwest lowlands. My Sunset Garden Book taught me that years ago.
   Rhodies like acidic, well-drained soil; lots of moisture; and filtered sun. The I-90 rhodie is covered in snow much of the winter and faces due south in full sunlight.
   But perhaps the I-90 rhodie is a hardy variety. Outside of the Northwest, rhodies thrive in high places like the Himalayas, where rhododendron forests soar nearly 100 feet high.
   I’ve hiked and backpacked all over the Cascades but don’t recall seeing rhodies above the snow line. Perhaps I’ve overlooked them. Are there any hikers out there who’ve seen rhodies up high? Please chime in!

by  Jon Osterberg

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Jaime Layng

05/08/2015 11:01 AM

That's really cool! We had a large rhodie growing at the corner of our house as I was growing up (my dad still owns the house) and I always thought it was pretty. Ours had a tree-like build whereas most that I see are overgrown and bushlike. I never considered that there could be forests full of primarily rhodies, so now I'm looking at some great pictures online of the Himalayan varieties. Thanks for the good read!

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