I've always struggled with identifying azaleas and rhododendrons. Just as soon as I thought I had it figured out I'd run across a nice pot of what I thought was azaleas and then discover the plant label said rhododendron.
As it turns out there was a good reason for my confusion. Azaleas and rhododendrons are not completely different plants. Azaleas are a species of rhododendron. In other words, all azaleas are rhododendrons, but not all rhododendrons are azaleas.
I probably wasn't wrong when I thought I found a pot of azaleas, but the producer who labeled it as rhododendrons wasn't wrong either. This is one case where two opposing opinions can both be correct.
How Can You Tell If the Flower Is an Azalea?
The main identifying characteristic of an azalea is the presence of 5 to 6 stamens in the center of the bloom while other rhododendrons typically have 10 (or more). Stamens are the male part of a flower and look like a slender stem with pollen on the end. They are often brightly colored with yellow or orange pollen.
There are other clues, of course, but none of them are hard and fast rules. For example, many azaleas are deciduous (they lose their leaves in the fall) while many other rhododendrons are evergreen. However, some azaleas are evergreen and some rhododendrons are not, notes Gardenia. The presence of deciduous or evergreen foliage is not a reliable way to distinguish whether your shrub is an azalea or another species of rhododendron.
As a general rule, azalea shrubs are smaller than other rhododendrons, but there are both large and small species of rhododendrons. Azaleas also typically have smaller leaves than traditional rhododendrons, but there are both small and large leaf rhododendrons, too. The size of the shrub or the size of the foliage is not always a reliable way to distinguish the two.
Both produce flowers in shades of white, pink, red, purple and peach with some varieties sporting yellow or orange blooms. They bring the garden bed to life in late spring or early summer. Whatever you choose to call them, these flowering shrubs produce a mass of color and are sure to brighten your garden bed.