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ORRIN MORRIS: Look for brilliant red, orange flame azaleas in May

One day, Moses was tending his father-in-law's sheep in the Sinai Desert and he saw a unique phenomenon. The Hebrew writer described the incident in these words: "The angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed" (Exodus 3:2).

The voice of God spoke from the fire and instructed Moses to return to Egypt and lead the exodus of about 2 million Hebrews out of slavery.

Our wildflower for today can remind one of the burning bush that Moses encountered in the desert. Each spring this wildflower creates brilliant displays that cause the discerning person to stop in amazement.FLAME AZALEA

Rhododendron calendulaceumThe flame azalea is like no other azalea. Its colors are a brilliant mixture of reds and oranges, with highlights of yellow. Some plants grow from 15 to 18 feet tall and when in groves of others, look like a huge blanket spread amid the pines.

As with all azaleas, the flame thrives in acid rocky soils, so it is rare to find them in hardwoods. The exception is where the thicket of hardwoods is below an evergreen thicket from which acid-rich waters seep or amid granite rocks of a specific composition that leach acid.

Furthermore, do not expect to find them in areas that stay wet. Flame azaleas prefer to keep their "feet dry."

In general, the blooms of the flame azalea measure about 2 inches wide. The trumpet-like throat supports five lobes that measure about 3 inches deep. There are five very long stamens and one pistil. These are cream colored and extend 1 to 1 inches beyond the end of the lobes. The throat of the flower is very hairy.

One can find flame azaleas blooming in May in the Georgia Piedmont (our area) and during June in the Georgia mountains. The flowers appear a week or so before the leaves begin to form, adding to the brilliance of the scarlet display.

As the blooms wither, the lance-shaped leaves dominate the plant, measuring up to 4 inches. The undersides, like the throats of the flowers, are hairy.

May your next encounter with the flame azalea be a Moses experience with an encouraging word and blessing from God for service in His kingdom.

Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister, local artist and art teacher. This column is included in a two-volume set of books of wildflower columns he has published. To purchase the books, visit the Nature Seen Gallery & Frame Shop, 914 Center St. in Olde Town Conyers.