Now is the time to look for the one of the Catskills’ showiest shrubs, the Pinxterbloom Azalea, Rhododendron prinophyllum. People who try to use common names for plants strictly will tell you that this plant is called Roseshell Azalea, and the Pinxter refers to Rhododendron periclymenoides, a similar but slightly more southern species. But all the locals will call the pink-blooming azalea of our area a Pinxter. This year the name is particularly appropriate, as its blooms will correspond to Pinxter or Pinkster, a local term derived from the Dutch Pinksteren, “Pentecost.” Pentecost this year takes place this coming Sunday, and the Pinxters should be in bloom.
The Pinxter is most common in the Shawangunks, and a hike on almost any sunny trail at this time of year should produce a sighting; but the plant is found in the Catskills too, mostly on rocky ledges with a fair amount of sun exposure. I have seen them looking spectacular on Giant Ledge, and based on this photo (from the Gunks) this may be a good year for Pinxterblooms.
The Pinxter is, like most native azaleas, not terribly easy to find or grow, and it requires patience as it is a slow-growing plant. We put some into the Denning Town Garden in Claryville, but they still look thin and spindly and it may be five years before they look good. Once established, however, they are pretty, long-lived, native shrubs which become spectacular for a week or two at this time of year. They are ideal for woodland edges or a lightly shaded woodland garden. They are not deer-resistant and need protection, but will grow up above deer browse height given time. They can be placed in full sun to mostly shade or anything in between, though blooming and branching is greatly increased by sunlight.