Azaleas have been grown for hundreds of years in Asia, Europe, and North America.
Descended from Asian shrubs, they are a form of rhododendron, with at least 17 species native to North America. One of the best places to see them is Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia, home to the world’s largest azalea garden.
Cason and Virginia Callaway were picnicking near their home in 1930 and came across a bright orange-red azalea. The plumleaf azalea inspired the Callaways to purchase 2,500 acres for a weekend retreat. The couple transformed the land left barren from cotton farming into a showplace that opened in May 1952 as Ida Cason Gardens, named for Callaway’s mother.
Callaway Gardens, as it became known, would eventually become a 14,000-acre tourist destination that featured more than 3,400 azaleas, the plant that became Georgia’s official state wildflower on April 19, 1979, Today in Georgia History.
Today in Georgia History is a joint collaboration of the Georgia Historical Society & Georgia Public Broadcasting.