Where the Rose Tree Grows

Entrance to the park.
Entrance to the park.

Rhody-lovers all over New England watch Rhododendron State Park with hawk eyes, awaiting the “big bloom.” Mid-July is here, bringing with it the annual explosion of wild rhododendron flowers—or so we hope. Many travel for miles to see the spectacle. Some manage to catch it, others don’t. It’s not always easy to time a surefire date with the flowering rhododendron at the apex of its glory, but our fondness for fleeting things drives us to pursue the beauty of flowers, to live in the moment and enjoy them while we can.

A cluster of rhododendron buds on the verge of waking.
A cluster of rhododendron buds on the verge of waking.

A few days ago, I visited the park and found some early-comers. A good sign! It was raining, and the sky was overcast and a bit grim, but a handful of large, pink and white bell shapes have emerged. I saw them like bulbs of brightness, nestled softly amongst the dark, wet leathery leaves. The rest of them are coming!

Rhododendrons emerge.
Flowers emerge.

I’d never been to Rhododendron State Park before. I wasn’t expecting to see any blooms, and though I’d read about the tunnel of rhododendrons beforehand, I wasn’t prepared for the poetry of contrast of light and dark, the intimacy of being enclosed in the rhododendrons and then released into the sunlight.

The poetic contrast of light and dark.
The poetic contrast of light and dark.

Both old, ornate and wild, it feels like walking through a garden from another time, something like the garden in “The Secret Garden.” As others before me have written, the experience was both calming and refreshing. I couldn’t help but think of Rhododendron State Park as a microcosm of “Rhodoland” that part of the earth famous to botanists as dominated by impenetrable thickets of rhododendron shrubs.

Into the tunnel.
Into the tunnel.

Rhododendron State Park is part of NH State Park’s “Hidden Gem” series, and with good reason. It’s the largest wild rhododendron grove in all of New England, a very special place. I think of it as a peaceful haven tucked back in the forests of Fitzwilliam, perfect for quiet, introspective walks or those last minute hikes to the summit of Little Monadnock, to catch a nice sunset view of Grand Monadnock.

For those seeking solace in the forest.
For those seeking solace in the forest.
To Little Monadnock.
To Little Monadnock.

The legends, meanings and uses of rhododendrons are by far more personally interesting to me than any fact I could regurgitate about their reproduction and botanical science. Also referred to as the “alpenrose,” the name is a joining of the greek words for “rhodon” (“rose”) and “dendron” (tree). They are an ancient species of evergreen shrub, the symbol of caution and awareness, known for their toxicity. They have been used to treat psychotic illness, mainly through rhododendron-induced interpretation of dreams, and the leaves used for poultices and other homeopathic remedies. Xenophon’s starving army drank the “toxic honey” produced by bees that pollinated rhododendrons in what is now modern Turkey, and were said to go mad. One Nepalese legend tells of the rhododendron’s rejection of the alder tree’s marriage proposal, and how this is the reason why trees don’t marry anymore.

The first of many blooms to come.
The first of many blooms to come.

These pictures don’t do the park enough justice, so please come and see if for yourself!

Another early comer.
Another early comer.

avatar

Discover Power of Parks SCA Interpreters

Discover the Power of Parks is presented by New Hampshire State Parks in collaboration with the Student Conservation Association and made possible by generous financial support from Eversource. The program offers a look into the natural world through hands-on programming. Interpretive programs focus on connecting participants with nature and building appreciation for New Hampshire's unmatched natural heritage. Programs include guided hikes, interpretive tours, and imaginative environmental workshops for children and families. Programs are offered free to guests with paid park admission fee. No pre-registration is required.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *