The difference between azaleas and rhododendrons

what is the difference between azaleas and rhodode

Comparison of rhododendron and azalea plants

Have you ever encountered the question: what is the difference between azaleas and rhododendrons? Are they the same plants or is there a reason to use both these names?

Rhododendrons are often called azaleas, but this isn't always accurate. The genus Rhododendron, which is part of the heather family, represents over a thousand species of different sizes, shapes and characteristics. The entire genus Rhododendron is divided into eight main groups (subgenera), two of which (Tsutsusi and Pentanthera) are known as azaleas. Thus, all azaleas are rhododendrons, but not all rhododendrons are azaleas.

The difference between azaleas and rhododendrons also lies in the shape of the leaves and other parts of these plants. The leaves of azaleas are in general smaller and pointed, while the leaves of other rhododendrons are mostly leathery and larger. Azaleas of the Tsutsusi group are evergreen, while Pentanthera azaleas are deciduous.

azalea tsutsusi
Rhododendron (azalea) from Tsutsusi subgroup
azalea Pentanthera
Rhododendron (azalea) from Pentanthera subgroup


Growers often use the term rhododendron to refer to two other groups of plants within the rhododendron genus: Rhododendron and Hymenanthes. The Rhododendron group is characterized by small spotted leaves, while plants within the Hymenanthes group are characterized by large smooth leaves. The other rhododendron subgenera (Azaleastrum, Candidastrum, Mumeazalea and Therorhodion) are less numerous, comprising only 6 species in total.

Rhododendron maximum
Rhododendron from the Rhododendron subgroup
Rhododendron purple
Rhododendron from hymenanthes subgroup

Rhododendrons and azaleas have both similar growing and care requirements. They prefer semi-shaded location, well-drained, acidic soil and plenty of water.

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