The Burning Bush | Flame Azalea


Flame Azalea | Rhododendron calendulaceum | acid soil loving shrub of the southern Appalachians

I had what I would call a successful day in “the field” with the camera the other day–a wonderful couple of hours devoted to stopping whenever, where ever and for how ever long I wanted along the Blue Ridge Parkway to photograph whatever struck my fancy.

My chief objective was to bring back some Flame Azalea pix, but they aren’t the easiest flowers in the world to photograph, as I could have better explained to my friend Dennis, on whose porch my parkway excursion for the morning ended.

“What difference does it make if the wind is blowing?” he wanted to know.

While there are several issues photographically, I suppose the greatest challenge with this particular flowering shrub is the depth of an individual flower, what with the three inch exserted stamens; and the globular, one in every direction way the flowers are arranged in the flower cluster, adding the challenge of additional depth–up to maybe six inches across.

Another complicating factor is that it is often difficult to find a cluster or group of clusters in good light, not bobbing in the wind, where ALL the flowers are in bud or flower, without a few brown and droopy spent flowers spoiling the prime-of-life composition.

Set this whole mess of orange or yellow waving along all axes in a 10 mph wind, and it makes for no small task on a cloudy day to get an image in focus without cranking the ISO up into the grainy range (>400 max).

So, here’s one of just a couple (true color, actually DEsaturated a bit) with the 18-80 Nikkor and D200. The 18-200 mm lens won’t be back from Nikon for at least another week. (Man, I sure am glad somebody talked me into keeping the backup lens!)

Aren’t we blessed in these gentle mountains to have Flame Azalea as a common roadside shrub?

There is another fact about this plant I hope to tell, but that will require yet another arduous morning out on the Parkway with my camera. Well, darn. Somebody’s gotta do it!

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. “Aren’t we blessed in these gentle mountains to have Flame Azalea as a common roadside shrub?”

    We are blessed indeed. After trying to plant and grow bushes and flowers in the yard for years, all I really need to do is look at all the mountain laurel and wild azaleas in the woods around the house – all blooming with no help from me. Definitely blessed. Great picture! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks for describing your challenges with photographing wildflowers. That is our favorite subject to photograph. You done good!! What amazing depth of field.