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What Is Washington's State Flower?

Washington's state flower is the Pacific rhododendron, a bloom that captures the lush beauty of the region with its vibrant pink petals. This flower not only symbolizes the state's natural splendor but also its enduring spirit. Discover how this floral emblem weaves into the rich tapestry of Washington's heritage—what stories might it tell about the Evergreen State's past?
Angie Bates
Angie Bates

Washington's state flower is the coast rhododendron, also known as the Pacific rhododendron. Nicknamed rhodies, coast rhododendrons are flowering shrubs found to the west of the Cascade mountains. The scientific, or botanical, name for this rhododendron is Rhododendron macrophyllum.

Evergreen, coast rhododendrons keep their leathery leaves all year long. A deep green, the roughly oval leaves have pointed edges. The leaves are generally between 3 and 8 inches (8–20 cm) long. This rhododendron produces small, reddish brown, capsule-shaped fruit. The fruit is usually only 0.78 inches (2 cm) long.

A map of the US.
A map of the US.

The flowers on this shrub are usually pale pink but can be found in various shades of pink to an almost purple red. Occurring in clusters only at the end of branches, the flowers have a bell-like shape. The number of clusters varies from relatively few to nearly covering the plant. Washington's state flower usually blooms in May through July, but may bloom as early as April.

The shrub itself can grow as tall as 26 feet (8 meters). Although they do well in full sunlight, these plants actually grow taller when they are in a shaded area. More than 60 percent shade, however, is not good for these rhododendrons.

The coast rhododendron generally prefers moist, but well drained, acidic soils. Since their blooms are showy, they are sometimes used in gardens. These plants are slow growing and relatively low-maintenance, requiring little pruning or additional attention. The leaves do produce a toxin, however, which is poisonous if ingested. Animals usually find the taste of rhododendrons unpalatable, but occasionally have been known to eat the leaves.

Washington's state flower also grows in the wild. Often found at the edge of forests, this shrub is found around thickets and areas that have been affected by forest fires as well. Though animals do not usually eat them, butterflies often visit the blooming shrubs to feast on the flowers' nectar. This shrub is protected by the Washington legislature, and picking wild coast rhododendron flowers is expressly forbidden because of their state flower status.

Though not officially designated Washington's state flower until 1959, the coast rhododendron was voted to the title in 1892. The election came in time for the newly appointed flower to be showcased in the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. Although women did not yet have the right to vote in public elections, the election to name the coast rhododendron to state flower was held entirely by women.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the state flower of Washington?

The state flower of Washington is the Coast Rhododendron, scientifically known as Rhododendron macrophyllum. It was officially designated in 1892 after a close competition with the clover, due to its widespread presence and the beauty it adds to the Pacific Northwest landscape. The Coast Rhododendron is known for its vibrant pink and purple blossoms, which typically bloom in the spring.

Why was the Coast Rhododendron chosen as Washington's state flower?

The Coast Rhododendron was chosen as Washington's state flower due to its abundance and significance in the state. It reflects the natural beauty of Washington's forests and landscapes. The flower's selection was also influenced by the women of Washington who advocated for its designation, recognizing its ornamental value and its role in native plant ecology.

Where can you find the Coast Rhododendron in Washington?

The Coast Rhododendron is commonly found in the wild in Washington, particularly in the western part of the state. It thrives in the moist, temperate forests that characterize the region. These flowers are also a popular choice in gardens and landscaping throughout the state, celebrated for their striking appearance and adaptability to the Pacific Northwest climate.

When is the best time to see the Coast Rhododendron in bloom?

The best time to see the Coast Rhododendron in bloom in Washington is during the late spring, typically from April to June. This is when the flowers are at their most vibrant, displaying a range of colors from pale pink to deep purple. The blooming period can vary slightly depending on the local climate and elevation.

Are there any festivals or events dedicated to the Coast Rhododendron in Washington?

Yes, Washington celebrates the Coast Rhododendron with various festivals and events, particularly in communities where the flower is abundant. One such event is the Rhododendron Festival in Port Townsend, which has been held annually since 1936. The festival features parades, art shows, and a variety of community activities that honor the state flower and the arrival of spring.

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      By: HL
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