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Saturday, December 25, 2010

What are Azaleas ?


[Extracted from the web page of Wikipedia]

Azaleas are flowering shrubs making up part of the genus Rhododendron. Originally azaleas were classed as a different genus of plant, but now they are recognized as two of the eight subgenera of rhododendrons - Pentanthera (deciduous) and Tsutsuji (evergreen). Azaleas bloom in spring, and their flowers wilt only a few weeks later. They do not need as much sun as other plants; they live near trees and sometimes under them. Azalea is also the flower of the astrology symbol.

One major difference between azaleas and the rest of the rhododendron genus is their size. Another is their flower growth; rhododendrons grow their flowers in stripers, while most azaleas have terminal blooms (one flower per flower stem). However, they have so many stems that during the flowering season they are a solid mass of colour. Azaleas are recognized by these flowers blooming all at once, in a showy display for a month or two in spring. The exception to this rule is a small group of azaleas which grow their flowers in tight terminal clusters. White azalea flower is usually not completely white but with pink spots as indicated by the arrows in the photograph.

The Satsuki azalea group, derived from Rhododendron indicum and related species, are very popular.
A traditional alcoholic beverage made from azalea blossoms, called Tugyonju (literally "azalea grape wine"), is produced in Korea.

Azalea plants are very toxic to equines, sheep and goats, but cause no problems in cats or dogs.
Plant enthusiasts have created azaleas for hundreds of years. This human genetic modification has produced over 10,000 different cultivars which are propagated by cuttings. Azalea seeds can also be collected and germinated.
Azaleas grow best in well-drained soil or in plant pots in a cool, shady position. They are easily damaged by excessive soil moisture and grow best in acidic soil (4.5 - 6.0 pH). Fertilizer is optional, although some species do need regular pruning.
Azeleas are native to several continents including Asia, Europe and North America. They are very common in the southeastern US.

In Chinese culture, the azalea is known as "thinking of home bush" (xiangsi shu) and is immortalized in the poetry of Tu Fu and is used to rich effect in contemporary stories such as "A Sea of Blood-red Azaleas," in the collection Taipei People by the Taiwanese author Bai Xianyong. Also, Mobile, Alabama houses the Azalea Trail Maids. These 50 girls chosen by interview process serve as ambassadors to the city while wearing antebellum dresses.
The azalea is also one of the symbols of the city of São Paulo, in Brazil

Hwajeon  is a small, sweet pancake, or tteok (rice cake) made of any edible flower petals such as azalea or chrysanthemum and glutinous rice flour, and sugar in Korean cuisine. Its name means "flower cake" in Sino-Korean.

Hwajeon was commonly eaten at hwajeon nori, a traditional custom held since the Goryeo dynasty (918-1392), literally meaning "flower cake play" In spring, women went on a picnic carrying with them glutinous rice flour and beoncheol near a stream on Samjinnal which falls on every March 3 in the lunar calendar. They plucked azaleas or any available edible flowers at hand where they set up their picnic and made hwajeon with the ingredients. The version made with edible azaleas is called jindallae hwajeon, or dugyeon hwajeon, and is regarded as the most representative hwajeon. It was traditionally eaten together with jindallae hwachae, or traditional punch consisting of the same flower floating in honeyed water, or omija juice.

Similarly, people enjoyed hwajeon nori in autumn as making another variety of hwajeon that is made with chrysanthemum flowers and leaves. It is called gukhwajeon and consumed with gukhwaju (rice wine made with the flower), or yuja hwachae (yuzu punch). Gukhwajeon is closely related to the Korean traditional festival called Junggu, or Juyangjeol. It falls on every 9th day of September in the lunar calendar and is said that two yang (positive cosmic forces) is overlapped on the date.

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