Can there be a more pitiful and tiresome plant than the rhododendron? Its leaves are discoloured, blotchy, and have some sort of funny powder on them. Its flowers are not very interesting and wilt after a day or two. Its leaves seem never to disintegrate, but instead collect all over the place and make a mess. And on top of that, some people have had the nerve to make this tedious plant the ‘state flower’ of Washington!
The rhododendron, or Rhododendron macrophyllum, is native to this area of the world– that is, the Pacific coast of North America from about central California up to British Columbia. It grows all over the place and never ceases to be unsightly. Local people refer to it with the irritating nickname “rhodie”. In the 1890s, Washington women, lacking the vote and itching to cast a ballot about something or other, got up a list of candidates for ‘state flower’. The Bellinghamites wanted the clover, which I am assured grows around there. The Spokanites wanted some other flower- a lilac, perhaps. But a Mrs. Fry of Seattle put forward the rhododendron due to its “wild profusion, great beauty and its evergreen leaf, which goes with the Evergreen State” (source).
Wild profusion: Check. Like beer cans, frat boys, yuppies, dog-walkers, young urban professionals, etc.
Great beauty: Check out the photos and decide for yourself.
Evergreen leaf: Yes, it does stay green year round, if that’s a deal-maker.
[v]oters flocked to post offices, drugstores, hotels, and other public business places to cast their ballots… There were no landslide victories in this contest. In the end, the coast rhododendron was favored by capturing 53 percent of the 15,000 ballots cast. (source)
Now I suppose we are stuck with it, this terrible eyesore of a plant. I might note that in the suburb of Federal Way there is an outfit calling itself the “Rhododendron Species Foundation and Botanical Garden” where they charge you eight dollars to look at some rhododendrons. What sort of madness is this– these humdrum and wearisome plants are visible all throughout Seattle for no change at all! As an even better deal, you can come look at the rhododendrons all over my garden for only six dollars (two dollars less than my competitor in the suburbs) and I’ll throw in a running commentary of obnoxious patter for free.