The Not So Innocent Rhododendron

Last week, I started an eerie botanical series featuring dangerous or spooky plants with this post about the Autumnal Croci. This week, we’re highlighting the not so innocent rhododendron growing under the front window! There it sits, just growing like it is a beautiful and guilt-free part of your front yard, but under the pretty face could there lie a darker side (Was that a rhetorical question)?

There are more than 250 species of Rhododendrons, family Ericaceae, in Asia, Europe, North America and Australia. The genus is highly prized, of course, for the spectacular flowers it produces in spring or fall. They are so well loved, there are literally tens of thousands of hybrids. Many do not know that azaleas are considered a subgroup of the genus. 

But rather than extolling the many virtues of this group of high performers, I would rather do a little digging into the species and see what dirty little secrets we can uncover. I have an anonymous source in the gardening community who informed me all parts of the plant contain grayanotoxins! Those grayanotoxins might mess with “non-essential” parts of your body like your cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, respiratory and reproductive systems. Honey containing rhodo pollen, also known as mad honey, cost Pompey dearly

Normally, the density of rhododendron flowers is too low in any given area to cause a problem, so it should not raise a great alarm, however you might not sleep so well tonight knowing rhododendron is lurking outside your front door.

Josh Steffen, Horticulture and Facilities Manager

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