With their harsh leaves old rhododendrons fill
The crevices in grave plots’ broken stones.
The bees renew the blossoms they destroy,
While in the burning air the pines rise still,
Commemorating long forgotten biers.
Their roots replace the semblance of these bones.
By Edgar Bowers
This native of the southern Appalachian Mountains is an evergreen shrub that blooms in early spring. The first recorded account of poisoning by rhododendron (Rhododendron luteum) related the poisoning of ten thousand soldiers after the consumption of honey made from the nectar of rhododendron. There are poisonous compounds (Grayanotoxins, and Andromedotoxin) found in the nectar which produces low blood pressure, shock and even death! Effects of Andromedotoxin poisoning are: Salivation, watering of eyes and nose, abdominal pain, loss of energy, depression, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, difficult breathing, progressive paralysis of arms and legs, coma.
Even though they are poisonous this plant is used in medicine. In Siberia rhododendron was used for rheumatism, and found useful in the treatment of gout and syphilis. A homeopathic tincture of the leaves is used for the treatment of diarrhea, amenorrhea, chorea (an abnormal involuntary movement disorder), affections of the eyes and ears, and neuralgia.
Catawba, the predominant Rhododendron in the Appalachian Mountains, is the state flower of West Virginia, and is in the Flag of West Virginia