Red Rhododendrons rustle in Spring breeze

Featured flowers: highlighting Cal Poly Humboldt’s fabulous flora
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by Nina Hufman

One of the most noticeable flowers on the beautiful CPH campus is the Rhododendron. The scientific name of this particular species is Rhododendron delavayi. According to the American Rhododendron society, the plants are native to India, Burma, China, Thailand, and other regions of Eastern Asia. This species of tree is identifiable by its bright red blossoms and elliptical-shaped leaves.

Dense indumentum, or hairlike structures, cover the underside of the plant’s leaves. These help the plant to absorb water and discourage predation by insects.

Photo by Nina Hufman. Bright red Rhododendron blossoms on the tree between the theatre and art buildings on Feb. 15, 2022.

Rhododendrons are members of the Ericaceae, an expansive family which also encompasses cranberries, blueberries, and huckleberries.

Despite the inclusion of these common edible fruits, many other members of this family are known to contain toxic compounds. According to the study ‘Phytochemicals and Biological Activities of Poisonous Genera of Ericaceae in China,’ “the toxic ingredients in the poisonous genera are mainly tetracyclic diterpenes, which exhibit toxic effects on the digestive, cardiovascular and nervous systems.”

The study also states that these poisonous plants’ traditional use in Chinese medicine makes them a good candidate for further scientific study.

According to the National Capital Poison Center, honey produced by bees from rhododendron nectar can concentrate the various toxic chemicals. The effects of poisoning by this method include disorientation, mouth irritation, nausea, and vomiting, leading to it’s colloquial name, “Mad Honey.”

Rhododendron trees can be seen in multiple places on the Cal Poly Humboldt campus including the area between the theater and art buildings, where the above photos were taken. They are considered early bloomers, usually producing flowers from late February to May. Go out while they’re still blooming and enjoy the beautiful, bright red rhododendron.

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