Monday, June 2, 2014

Episode 216 (6-2-14): "Rhododendron Ridge," by The Floorboards, Inspired by an Appalachian Plant Phenomenon

Click to listen to episode (3:07)


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of June 2, 2014.

This week, we feature an Appalachian roots rock band from Roanoke, Virginia, with a song about plants whose roots, leaves, and especially flowers provide an annual June show on the Blue Ridge and other Virginia highlands.  Have a listen for about a minute.


You’ve been listening to part of “Rhododendron Ridge,” by The Floorboards, on their self-titled CD released in 2012.  The song was written about the area around Mt. Rogers—Virginia’s highest peak, located in Grayson and Smyth counties.  Mt. Rogers is just one of the many high-elevation places in Virginia and other parts of the southern Appalachians where various species of Rhododendron—including some commonly called azaleas—grow widely and produce beautiful flower displays in June.  That perennial, natural flower show happens in places where rhododendrons’ roots and leaves get their preferred combination of sun or shade, temperature, moisture, and acidity in the soil and soil water.  Virginia’s nine native rhododendron species share that preference for acidity with other members of the heath family of plants, including blueberries and Mountain Laurel.  Of course, you can’t see the water chemistry going on around rhododendron roots, but at the right time and place, you can see the resulting bloom that might be for you—as for this week’s songwriter—like something you’ve never seen.  Thanks to the Floorboards for permission to use this week’s music.

For other water sounds and music, and for more Virginia water information, visit our Web site at, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  From the Virginia Water Resources Research Center in Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


[All Internet addresses mentioned were functional as of 6/2/14]
Great Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum, right), Flame Azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum, orange flowers, left) and Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia, foreground) along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Floyd County, Va., June 1, 2014.
Side-by-side Flame Azalea showing color variation, along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Floyd County, Va., June 1, 2014.
Mountain Laurel in bloom along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Floyd County, Va., June 1, 2014.


“Rhododendron Ridge” is copyright 2012 by The Floorboards, used with permission.  It was written by Floorboards member Matt Browning.  More information about The Floorboards is available online at

Thanks to the following people for providing information for this episode: Susan Day, John Peterson, and John Seiler, all in the Virginia Tech Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation; and the staff and volunteers working at the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Rocky Knob Visitor Center (mile post 169) on June 1, 2014
Sources for this episode
Blue Ridge Parkway Association, “Craggy Gardens, MP 364,” online at

McNab, W. Henry, Ecological Subregions of the United States (Chapter 18 “Central Appalachian Broadleaf Forest - Coniferous Forest – Meadow”) (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Forest Service, 1994), online at

U.S. Forest Service, “Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area,” online at

U.S. National Park Service, “Blue Ridge Parkway” brochure, online at

Virginia Botanical Associates, “Digital Atlas of the Virginia Flora,” online at

Virginia Tech Department of Forest Resources and Conservation, “Dendrology at Virginia Tech—Fact Sheets,” online at

Other sources for learning about Virginia plants

The Flora of Virginia Project (project accompanying the 2012 publication of The Flora of Virginia, the first comprehensive manual of Virginia plants published since the 1700s), online at

Series of books by Oscar W. Gupton and Fred C. Swope: Fall Wildflowers of the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1987); Wild Orchids of the Middle Atlantic States (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1986); Wildflowers of Tidewater Virginia (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1982); and Wildflowers of the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1979).

Virginia Native Plant Society, online at

Virginia Water News and Other Information
            For news, events, and resources relevant to Virginia's water resources, grouped into categories, please visit the Virginia Water Central News Grouper, available online at