In the nineteen hundreds, taxonomists thought this was a distinct genus from the rhododendrons because of the flower shape, thus the name Rhodora. The blossoms have three lobes, rather than five like other rhodos. The floral structure is different, too. The flowers have no true tube or throat which would hold all the various plant parts together. Instead, the flower is split almost from its base with an upper three-lobed lip and two lateral strap-shaped petals. The stamens, styles and stigmas are large and protrude, exceeding the length of the petals. In the two photos below, the differences are clear between the Rhodora on the top and the rhododendron on the bottom.
Eventually, the taxonomists changed their minds about where Rhodora belonged and included her in the genus of rhododendrons, but her name stuck, nonetheless. As with birding, just about the time you think you've got a name straight, the rules of play also change in botany. Rhodora is not endangered. The outrageous magenta blooms can be seen on the roadsides from Pennsylvania to northern New Jersey, northward to Ontario, Quebec and the Canadian Maritimes. The ostentateous magenta isn't eveyone's favorite but, in the Northeast we forgive and love Rhodora's tastelessness as a sure sign that summer is about to erupt.
Rhododendron canadensis, commonly known as Rhodora on the top. A cultivated rhododendron on the bottom.
Range map for Rhododendron canadensis
Ralph Waldo Emmerson thought Rhodora was swell, too. I've never been a big Ralph fan, but I have his famous poem for you here.
On being asked, whence is the flower.
In May, when sea-winds pierced our solitudes,
I found the fresh Rhodora in the woods,
Spreading its leafless blooms in a damp nook,
To please the desert and the sluggish brook.
The purple petals fallen in the pool
Made the black water with their beauty gay;
Here might the red-bird come his plumes to cool,
And court the flower that cheapens his array.
Rhodora! if the sages ask thee why
This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,
Tell them, dear, that, if eyes were made for seeing,
Then beauty is its own excuse for Being;
Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose!
I never thought to ask; I never knew;
But in my simple ignorance suppose
The self-same power that brought me there, brought you.
Another garish roadside presence in spring and summer in Maine is the Bend Over Betty lawn ornament, or yard art. Here, we pronounce that "yah-d ah-t." She's surely no beauty, but she does have presence. Once in a while, she is accompanied by her partner, Bend Over Bob. He is also seen only from the rear and with his boxers showing. Like the color magenta, their beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Once the novelty has worn off, they are often seen listing sideways with the weeds growing up around them. Like a derelict Bend Over Betty, I too can be found hip deep in the weeds of late. As the Rhodora blooms gardening season is flourishing, too. So, I've been lost to Weeding For Dollars and have not written for a month.
Numerous of you have sent e mail inquiring as to where I've been. "Have you gone underground," I was asked. No, but close to it, bent over with my head to the dirt, hands moving through the earth, pulling, teasing and chopping at the unwelcome, a professional Bend Over Betty. It has moved me that I have been missed. There could hardly be a worse insult than for my absence to have gone unnoticed. Rest assured that I am out here, like a tennis ball your dog lost in the tall grass.
Yours truly, Bend Over Betty
Better not to ask about the rabbit and the donkey.
Thanks for some of the information to:
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Johnson, Charles W. 1985. Bogs of the Northeast. University of New England Press, Hanover, New Hampshire and London, England.
Appalachian Mountain Club. 1964. AMC Field Guide to Mountain Flowers of New England. Appalachian Mountain Club, Boston, Massachusetts.
Slack, N. G. and A. W. Bell. 1995. Field Guide to the New England Alpine Summits. Appalachian Mountain Club, Boston, Massachusetts.
Wallner, J. and M. J. DiGregorio. 1997. New England’s Mountain Flowers: A High Country Heritage. In cooperation with the New England Wild Flower Society. Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula, Montana.