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What Is an Azalea Hybrid?

O. Parker
O. Parker

A hybrid azalea is a cross between two different azalea species. Horticulturalists breed different types of azaleas together to create a new azalea with specific desirable traits. The specific traits for which azaleas are often bred include flower color, shape and size; winter hardiness; bloom time; and plant size. There are more than 10,000 different registered azalea hybrid cultivars, with more being developed each year.

Developing a new type of azalea hybrid is a time-consuming process. Technically, any cross between two different species is a hybrid, but in order for it to become a named and recognized azalea hybrid, it has to be evaluated and registered. Creating a new hybrid or a group of hybrids can take many years. Each new generation is carefully bred until the desired traits are achieved.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

Once the desired traits are established, the plant has to be reproduced reliably. The seeds from a hybrid azalea do not reproduce offspring similar to the parent plant. Once the desired azalea hybrid is established, new plants are propagated from rooted cuttings.

Rooting cuttings from woody shrubs and trees, including azaleas, is a propagation method used to clone plants. A cutting is taken from the parent plant and rooted in a soilless medium. Once the cutting produces roots, it is transplanted into a container and raised until it is large enough to plant outdoors or sell at the nursery. Propagating hybrid azaleas from rooted cuttings is a reliable way to reproduce identical offspring from the parent plant.

Azalea hybrid cultivars are often grouped by the hybridizer. An individual often spends years or decades developing new azalea hybrids by carefully crossbreeding different species. A single group may have multiple similarly cultivated specimens from which to choose.

The Rhododendron Glenn Dale is a group of azalea hybrids developed in the 1920s. This group was bred with the intent of creating an azalea that produced large flowers and could tolerate cold winters. As a result of this breeding program, 454 different cultivars were created that tolerate cold temperatures and produce large flowers.

The Aromi azalea group, or Rhododendron aromi, consists of both an evergreen group, with 31 cultivars, and a deciduous group, with eight registered cultivars. Aromi azaleas have large, fragrant flowers that bloom early in the season. The Holly Springs group consists of evergreen azaleas developed to tolerate cold temperatures and to grow large flowers. Azalea hybrids in this group are selected for their dwarf sizes.

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