Electric Lights Double Pink Azalea.

Two New Azaleas Join the 'Lights' Series

October 1, 2015

University of Minnesota azaleas are world-renowned for varied colors and incredible flower bud hardiness—an achievement that initially took two decades. Historically, azaleas were not hardy past -4°F. Even when northern gardeners could find a cold hardy variety, there were only available in shades of pinkish-mauve.

The release of ‘Electric Lights Red’ in 2015 signifies the culmination of a long quest for a true red azalea that will thrive in cold climates.

U of M historical plant breeding.University researchers first began crossing northern hardy azaleas with their more colorful southern versions in 1957. Through the initial crosses, a discovery was made. Crossing plants from the northern and southern zones results in a plant that in its second generation is hardier than the original northern parent. Twenty-one years later, the first cold hardy azaleas were introduced to the nursery industry.  

'Northern Lights'—with various shades of fragrant pink flowers on a 4- to 6-foot bush—was the first introduction, in 1978.

Since then, U of M plant breeders have focused on expanding the line with new colors, increased disease resistance, attractive fall foliage, increased fragrance, and even extended bloom periods. New technology allows breeders to eliminate crosses with undesirable characteristics much earlier in the process, saving breeders time, resources, and money.

Stan Hokansan with azaleas.The two newest azaleas, ‘Electric Lights Double Pink’ and ‘Electric Lights Red’ bring the total releases to 16. U of M varieties feature cold hardiness to zone 3 and flower bud hardiness of -30° to -45° F.  The "Lights Series," as they are known, now includes hues from traditional pink-mauves to red, orange, white, lemon yellow, peach, and lilac.

Breeders: Steve McNamara/Stan Hokansan

Did You Know?

Rhododendron is the genus name for both rhododendrons and azaleas. In the Upper Midwest, azalea refers to the deciduous members of the genus Rhododendron and rhododendron refers to those that hold their leaves through the winter.