A deciduous shrub up to 5 ft high, sometimes dwarf and stoloniferous; young stems clad with pale appressed hairs, sometimes only sparsely so. Leaves obovate to elliptic or oblong-elliptic, 11⁄4 to 21⁄4 in. long, about half as wide, acute to slightly acute at the apex, cuneate at the base, slightly hairy above, densely so and usually glaucous beneath, margins ciliate. Flowers fragrant, borne with the unfolding leaves in May, in a terminal cluster of six to ten, on glabrous or sometimes hairy pedicels up to 3⁄8 in. long. Calyx very small, clad with bristly eglandular hairs. Corolla tubular-funnel-shaped, about 11⁄2 in. wide at the mouth, white, with or without a yellow blotch, tube slender, about 1 in. long, hairy and sometimes glandular outside, expanding gradually into the limb, lobes ovate or oblong-ovate. Stamens ten, about twice as long as the tube. Ovary densely appressed-hairy, glandular or eglandular. (s. Azalea ss. Luteum)
Native of the south-eastern USA; introduced to Britain in 1922. Mrs Norman Henry considered this to be one of the most enchanting of the American azaleas. ‘With its supremely beautiful velvety white flowers that appear, so abundantly, before the leaves that sometimes the stems are invisible, it is a fair sight indeed, and as for fragrance, it is utterly unlike any other Azalea with which I am familiar, the odour being full and mellow with much of the rich sweetness of some of the oriental Lilies’ (R.Y.B. 1946, p. 36).
R. alabamense was first described as late as 1901, and then as a variety of R. nudiflorum (now R. periclymenoides). But, among other characters, the pure white flowers distinguish it from that species and from R. prinophyllum and R. canescens. Despite its southern habitat, R. alabamense is perfectly hardy in Britain.
For natural hybrids between R. alabamense and R. canescens see: H. T. Skinner, ‘In Search of Native Azaleas’ (R.C.Y.B. 1957, pp. 11 and 15).