Bonsai Species Guide: Rhododendron species/ Azalea Bonsai

azalea bonsai

Satsuki Azalea bonsai

The Rhododendron genus is massive and includes anything between 500-900 species depending on which authority you consider. Some species are so similar to others that they are listed as subspecies rather than distinct species in their own right, others are established hybrids (such as Kurume and Satsuki) that are sometimes regarded as species in their own right.
Rhododendrons are deciduous or evergreen trees and shrubs from Australasia, N America, SW China, Tibet, Burma, N India and New Guinea. They occur in many diverse habits, from dense forest to alpine tundra, and from sea-level to high altitude. They vary greatly in habit, some can reach heights of 25metres whilst others creep at ground-level to form prostrate shrubs.
All Rhododendron and Azalea species have lance-shaped mid- to dark-green leaves ranging in size from 4mm to 75 cm long. They are mainly grown as bonsai for their spectacular flowers that are usually borne singly or in clusters in Spring (there are also a number of species that flower in Autumn/Winter and Summer).
Flowers can vary greatly in size and shape across the genus but all are usually 5-lobed and often marked with flares and spots on the inside.
In terms of bonsai, it is small-leaved species that are suitable; these tend to be Azaleas though there is no botanical difference between Azaleas and Rhododendrons and confusingly, there are a number of small-leaved Rhododendrons that are not classed as Azalea.
The two principal Azalea species that are used for bonsai are Satsuki azaleas and Kurume azaleas though there are many other Azalea species and hybrids that are suitable and these should not be discounted as potential bonsai material. All Rhododendron species have the ability to withstand root pruning and all will back-bud with ease.

Satsuki hybrids are Japanese-raised Azaleas bred using mainly R. indicum and R.simsii. Satsuki azaleas display a wide variety of flower colours and size, in Japan there are two or three different periodicals wholly devoted to their care and some enthusiasts will grow them exclusively.
Less hardy than most Azaleas, Satsuki have an excellent low, twiggy habit and bear funnel shaped, unscented flowers in whites,pinks, reds and purples in Summer (not Spring as is typical with many R. species).
Kurume hybrids are Japanese-raised Azaleas originating from crosses between R. kaempferi (which were originally Dutch bred), R.kiusianum and R.obtusum. Kurume hybrids are hardier than Satsukis and produce numerous, very small, funnel shaped flowers in a wide range of colours in Spring.

Satsuki Azalea bonsai

Satsuki Azalea bonsai just 8"/20cm in height

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