Western azaleas are the only species of native azaleas growing west of the Rockies. (Mary Lou Goodwin photo)
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Local folks can help ensure the western azalea continues to flourish on the coast.

California State Parks invites volunteers of all ages to a western azalea restoration workday in Humboldt Lagoons State Park on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Volunteers will use hand tools to get rid of vegetation that’s encroaching into the azalea bushes.

“Volunteers are needed to help remove competing brush and small trees that, if not removed, would convert the shrub lands to forest, completely shading over the azaleas, which require almost full sunlight to live,” said Michelle Forys, environmental scientist with the North Coast Redwoods District of California State Parks.

“Azaleas cannot survive in the shade,” Forys said, “and if no management occurs, we will lose … two amazing azalea stands that provide habitat for a variety of wildlife and insects.”

Locally, the two western azalea management areas are Azalea State Reserve in McKinleyville and the Stagecoach Hill Azalea Management Area just north of Big Lagoon. Both areas provide a combination of mild temperatures, high humidity and sun-exposed slopes — conditions that help these flowers thrive, Forys said.

Volunteers for Saturday’s workday will meet at the Stagecoach Hill Azalea Trailhead on Big Lagoon Ranch Road. (To get there, take U.S. Highway 101 to Kane Road, turn right and go up the hill to Big Lagoon Ranch Road, then take a left and follow the signs to the trailhead.) Participants should wear sturdy shoes for walking off trail. Work locations are less than a half a mile hike from the trailhead. Extra gloves and tools will be available for volunteers. Parking is limited, so people are encouraged to carpool to the site.

Forys said the Manual of California Vegetation and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife consider western azalea patches “vulnerable globally” and “imperiled within the State of California,” because either their range is restricted and/or very few populations exist. “These two western azalea areas,” she said, “are some of the only remaining large continuous stands of native and wild (non-cultivated) azaleas left in Northern California.”

According to a California State Parks brochure, western azaleas — which are closely related to the California rhododendron — are the only species of native azaleas growing west of the Rocky Mountains. Between April and July, they produce vibrant aromatic blooms.

“According to Dr. Mossman, an expert on western azaleas, Rododendron occidentale is the only azalea with 78 chromosomes, which contributes to the tremendous variation in flower color and growth,” Forys said.

Saturday’s volunteers will receive a free one-day use pass to Patrick’s Point State Park in Trinidad. For more information about volunteering, call 707-677-3109.

 

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