Although the azalea flower was once classed in a separate genus, they are now considered a sub-genus of rhododendrons. To many, the distinction between the rhododendron and azalea may be very vague, but to experienced gardeners it is understood that azaleas are deciduous, while the rhododendron is evergreen. Azaleas are a flowering shrub that grow their best during damp portions of the spring season. These flowers are known for releasing a sweet scent, and having bright, cheerful colors. The white azaleas are frequently used by gardeners as a backdrop for other brilliantly hued blossoms; however, these flowers come in a variety of shades from orange and yellow, to pink and red. You may also see these flowers in solid colors, or with patterns that are described as margined (thin margins of two colors), sectored (each petal showing a different color), blotched or striped.
The azalea flower has a rich and varied cultural and historical significance. They are celebrated in festivals throughout the United States and Japan; they are the focus of many poems and stories, and are – in several cultures – a well loved first name for little girls. In Europe during the early to mid-1800s, the azalea was considered an aristocratic flower. The first variates of azaleas to originate in Europe were known at Speciosa and Puchra, and by 1833 Viscount de Schrijnmackers de Dormael began exhibiting his own hybrid, a white azalea that was named Violatia. The azalea flower has also come to be the symbol for many things. For instance, they are the symbol for the city of Sao Paulo in Brazil, and the flower most associated with the astrological sign of Sagittarius.
In China, the azalea flower is thought to be a strong symbol of womanhood. In other parts of the world they are thought to represent passion and fragility; however, these flowers are best known for their expression of “take care of yourself.” These flowers are frequently given as gifts to pass along the wish that the recipient be good to himself – especially during illness or trying times.