The desired traits
The breeding trials and selection that has gone into the Auburn Azalea series has branched in many directions, with theses goals among others:
1. To find and/or create superlative examples of pure native species
2. To create plants that flower during the late spring into summer
3. To combine the showy flowers of existing hybrids with the hardiness of native plants
4. To breed a group of successively blooming plants with Auburn orange flowers
The Auburn Azaleas were bred by several gardeners in the Auburn area. Their ranks include noted proffesors and administrators like R. O.Smitherman, Tom Corley, Dennis Rouse, and Bob Greenleaf. Wildflower expert Caroline Dean and her family also grew and selected plants in the series. Excellent plants from other Auburn gardens were used in the breeding program. The 3rd and 4th generation hybrids have been made and grown out here on the grounds of Auburn's Arboretum, and Corley and Greenleaf continue to make selections from their stock.
Auburn Family Tradition
The South is famous for being loaded with azaleas. The surprising part is the variety of types and their amazing stories.
All azaleas are classified as members of the genus Rhododendron. So are all rhododendrons, like the native catawba rhododendron with its bright purple trusses of flowers along the Blue Ridge Parkway, or the dwarf rhododendron that can be seen blooming in the woods all around Lake Martin each spring.
When people think of Southern azaleas, the most common association is with antebellum gardens where evergreen azaleas have been in style since the late1800's. Around the same time these evergreen asian azaleas were becoming popular in the American South, botanists were sending our native deciduous azaleas back to Europe where gardeners crossbred many of our species to create wonderfully showy plants that were unforutunately well adapted to Northern Europe after a few generations there.
The Auburn Azalea Series is the result of decades of work focused on producing beautiful azaleas that bloom throughout the growing season, and thrive in the southern climate once established in the landscape.
Plant Breeding 101
Using the pollen from a plant with desired qualities to pollinate the flower of another plant with desired qualities could result in baby plants with desired traits of both parents, or the undesirable traits.
The flower on the left has been bred to be big and beautiful, but it doesn't survive Alabama's late summer dry spells like the well adapted wild azalea on the right.
Hundreds of seedlings have to be raised from each cross pollination to see if the offspring have the desired traits. These azaleas won't flower until they are a few years old, and it takes even longer to determine their hardiness, and mature growth form.