As sunbeams filter through the redwood canopy, the understory lights up with flares of pink. This is Sonoma county’s Kruse Rhododendron State Park, and I was lucky enough to find myself there last week with the rhododendrons (Rhododendron macrophyllum) in full bloom. It’s a surprisingly beautiful sight to be in a forest of these tall shrubs when they are heavy with their large pink flowers. The effect is lovely and somehow festive–as if the woods had been decorated for a girl’s birthday party.
Pacific rhododendron can grow to 12 feet tall, and are found from British Columbia to Monterey; they are the state flower of Washington. They usually grow in under conifer forests, but you can also sometimes find them in the chaparral, according to the Marin Flora.
This plant is not edible, but it was used ceremonially by west coast tribes. The Karok used it in a sweathouse ceremony designed to bring luck; the Kashaya and Pomo people use the flowers to make dance wreaths.