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Creeping Azalea

Kalmia procumbens

  • Name also: Mountain Azalea, Alpine-azalea, Trailing Azalea
  • Scientific synonym: Loiseleuria procumbens
  • Family: Heather Family – Ericaceae
  • Growing form: Perennial dwarf shrub. Forms tufted stands.
  • Height: 5–10 cm (0.2–0.4 in.). Stem short and densely branched, woody.
  • Flower: Corolla bowl-shaped, pink, 4 mm (0.16 in.) broad, fused, deeply 5-lobed. Sepals 5, dark red. Stamens 5. A single carpel. Flowers solitary or inflorescence of small umbels terminating branches.
  • Leaves: Opposite, almost stalkless, overwintering. Blade elliptic–long, blunt, oval, leathery, rigid, dark green on top, underside white-downy, with entire margins, broadly revolute.
  • Fruit: Spherical, 3–4 mm (0.12–0.16 in.) long, 4-valved capsule opening at tip.
  • Habitat: Dry, open fell moors, rocks and gravels, sometimes mountain birch woodland.
  • Flowering time: June–July.

Creeping azalea grows on Lappish fells, north of Iivaara in Kuusamo. It grows most abundantly on Pallastunturi Fell and in Inari Lapland, where it decorates the landscape with the world’s softest pink while it is in bloom. First the stigmas open, after which the stamens grow level with them. If no insect appears with pollen from another plant during the day, the stamens bend against the stigmas and self-fertilize the plant.

Although the plants only grow in summer, the winter conditions on the fells are significant. Creeping azalea is a very typical of wind-whipped fell tops where the protective covering of snow is blown away and the plant can freeze or dry out. It’s low, dense, creeping, tufted way of growing and its small, brown leaves are adaptations to the harsh conditions. Creeping azalea remains on the fell out of reach of the Arctic winds and inside its cushion the temperature can be up to 10 degrees warmer than outside.

Although creeping azalea looks quite modest above the ground, it has the widest rootstock of all the dwarf shrubs that grow on the fells – in actual fact the majority of the plant’s weight is under the ground! Its strong taproot pushes down deep into the earth and lives as long as the plant, around 50–60 years. Like Finland’s forest trees, Heather family plants form a symbiotic relationship with fungal roots, so the fungus gets carbohydrates that it cannot assimilate itself. One can’t be choosy on the fells: only a handful of mushrooms grow with heather plants there, and different plants and even species can be in contact with one another through a shared fungal partner.

Other species from the same family

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