The Washington State flower is known as the Coast Rhododendron. In 1892 the women from the state of Washington held a statewide election to vote for the Washington State Flower. The flower would represent the state of Washington at the World’s Fair held in Chicago the following year. The World’s Fair was to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the “New World.” To commemorate the event, the Women’s Congress developed the concept of the National Garland of Flowers. Each state in the union was to have a representative flower grown within their state boundary. Therefore, in 1892, a woman named Alsora Hayner Fry, nominated the Coast Rhododendron.
With more than 15,000 ballets cast, the Coast Rhododendron beat out six other plants, including the Clover, with 53% of the votes to become the Washington State Flower. Scientifically called Rhododendron Macrophyllum, it is also known as Pacific Rhododendron or Big Leaf Rhododendron. Regardless of its name, there were many residents who opposed the imported plant from California. However, with time, the plant had slowly garnered the acceptance of Washington residents. Officially, the Coast Rhododendron became the Washington State Flower in 1959. This was the year both chambers of the state’s legislature sanctioned the plant and a law passed.
Although the vast majority of the world’s rhododendrons are found in Southeast Asia, the warm maritime climate of the Pacific Northwest has proven to be a fertile grow house to these foreign born plants. Spotted throughout the state, these regionally coastal plants are found only west of the Cascade Mountain Range. Exposure to the moisten air that is known for this region, is a necessity for these plants to survive and thrive. The drier climate east of the Cascade has left the region lifeless for the state’s plant. Even at 4,000 feet above sea level, the Washington State Flower has been known to survive. Stretching as far north as British Columbia, the Coast Rhododendron stretches down the Pacific coastline to Monterey, California.
When grown to full maturity, the regionally found flower will stand on average 6-8 feet tall. Known to naturally grown along the edge of forests, the Coast Rhododendron can also be seen along the edges of hidden trails, busy highways, rapid riverbeds, and open patches of fertile land. Known as a spring and summer perennial, it blooms in spring. The vibrant, various array of pink shades can be seen on any adventure. Even the rare white flower can be seen. Then by the end of the summer, the black fruits of the plant have ripened and are ready for the picking, but you must be careful.
Although the plant is naturally beautiful to look at, it must only be admired. The leaves and flowers of the Coast Rhododendron contain toxic chemicals. Both humans and animals alike should avoid ingesting any part of the plant. Grazing animals such as sheep should be extra cautious has they may become violently ill and their consumption of the plant may also be fatal.