pinxter azalea, pinxterbloom,
pinxterflower, pink azalea
(formerly R. nudiflorum)
About ten days ago I read that the pinxters in Rachel Carson Conservation Park were in bud. A few days later, I went to have a look, but only a few were open. A few days after that, I went back and found them fully open, glorious splashes of pink blossoms among the pale green of new leaves on other trees.
There are thirty two native species of Rhododendron in the continental US. Seven of these occur in Maryland, mostly in the western counties or on the coastal plain. Three species are found in the piedmont. This species is a deciduous shrub growing to twelve feet tall (usually less). Like most ericaceous plants it prefers moist but well-drained acidic soils. At Rachel Carson you can find it near rock outcroppings and along the shore of the Hawlings River.
Supposedly pinxter is a fairly common plant, but I’ve never come across it before. I’ve read that it can be found on Sugarloaf Mountain. Guess I need to get back there soon. It’s listed as endangered in New Hampshire, expoitably vulnerable in New York, threatened in Ohio, and special concern in Rhode Island.
About the name… According to Cookies, Coleslaw, and Stoops: The Influence of Dutch on the North American Languages (Nicoline van der Sijs, Amersterdam University Press), the word “pinxter” comes from the word “pinkster”, the Dutch name for the religious festival known in English as Pentecost. You can read more about that here.
The more I looked at this flower, the more fascinated I became by its structure. Note the five stamens and one very long pistil per flower. In general, plants in the Ericaceae have twice as many stamens as petals (typically ten stamens and five petals, but not always). It took awhile but I finally read that the North American azaleas are an exception to this rule, having the same number of stamens as petals.