Two rhododendrons grow at New River Gorge National Park and Preserve; the state flower, called great rhododendron, and catawba rhododendron, a migrant that occurs along the New River from North Carolina. Both shrubs are members of the Ericaceae or Heath family; plants that thrive in acidic soil such as those found in the New River Gorge. Rhododendrons are most often found in ravines and on shaded hillsides where they often grow in dense thickets that shade out many other understory plants.
The smaller pointed evergreen leaves of mountain laurel, also in the heath family, are often confused with rhododendron. Its clusters of round pink to white flowers can be seen blooming at the overlooks in late May through early July.
The leaves of each of these three species are toxic to humans and livestock.
Last updated: January 27, 2021