Azaleas are some of the most beloved shrubs in horticulture, creating dazzling displays of colour once their flowers bloom during the spring. Around the world, the emergence of azalea flowers is celebrated through dedicated festivals. This article will delve into the main azalea festivals around the world.
What are Azaleas?
Azaleas are members of the Rhododendron genus, which contains over 1,000 varieties of woody flowering shrubs. Azaleas are indigenous to parts of northern Asia and North America and can be evergreen or deciduous.
In areas like China, Hong Kong, Japan, and Korea, azalea festivals occur during the flowering season of these shrubs. The azalea varieties celebrated in Asia are usually evergreens.
North American azalea festivals typically celebrate the deciduous azalea varieties that grow across the United States. These azaleas produce beautiful fragrances to accompany their blooms. The main American azalea festivals occur in Alabama, Florida, and North Carolina.
Azalea Festivals Around the World
Azalea Trail Festival, Alabama
In 1951, Mobile, Alabama held its first Azalea Trail Festival to celebrate the azaleas growing along the streets. Over the decades, other events have developed around the trail, including the Azalea Trail Run. This is one of North America’s most famous runs, covering 10 km through the city streets.
Another related institution is the Azalea Trail Maids. This group encompasses 50 young women from Mobile’s high school seniors who are picked every year. They dress up in traditional Southern dresses to represent flowers and act as ambassadors for Mobile’s history and culture.
Florida Azalea Festival
In Palatka, Florida, the first weekend of March can only mean one thing – the annual Florida Azalea Festival. Established in 1938, the festival is spread across two days and syncs up with the emergence of the region’s azalea flowers.
The programme of events includes a parade, a pageant, and golf and bowling tournaments. The Ravine Gardens State Park also hosts themed azalea days.
North Carolina Azalea Festival
Every April, Wilmington hosts the North Carolina Azalea Festival. Established in 1948, the festival commemorates the azaleas that burst into colour across various city gardens, including Airlie Gardens.
Throughout the decades, several celebrities have attended or performed at the festival. One of the festival’s famous traditions is the Cape Fear Garden Club Azalea Belles. These young women are chosen as ambassadors for the event, wearing traditional Southern dresses and interacting with visitors.
Ma On Shan Azalea Festival, Hong Kong
Every April the town of Ma On Shan in Hong Kong celebrates six local azalea species. These species include the Rhododendron hongkongense, which demonstrates beautiful blooms that cover a spectrum between light red and white.
The festival honours the azalea as the region’s symbol, and events include the planting of azaleas as well as various competitions in painting and photography.
Royal Azalea Festival, South Korea
This Korean azalea festival is set around Sobaek Mountain, located close to the city of Yeongju. The festival begins in May and celebrates the region’s native azalea species, the Rhododendron schlippenbachii – also known as the royal azalea.
These royal azaleas grow all around the slopes of the mountain. Once the beautiful pink flowers have emerged, the entire peak is clothed in a pink Jeogori – a traditional type of Korean jacket.
Higashi Village Azalea Festival, Japan
Japan is home to many festivals that celebrate the blooming of evergreen azaleas, also known as Tsutsusi rhododendrons. One of the most well-known is the Higashi Village Azalea Festival.
This event is held in March at the Higashi Azalea Eco Park in Okinawa. The celebrations follow the blooming of over 50,000 azalea shrubs located in the park. This beloved event draws attracts approximately 80,000 annual visitors.