The 'Lights' series of azaleas brings the colors of the tropics to Minnesota's early spring landscape. The plants are world-renowned for varied colors and incredible flower bud hardiness—an achievement that initially took two decades. The first crosses were made in 1957; 'Northern Lights'—with various shades of fragrant pink flowers on a 4- to 6-foot bush—was the first introduction, in 1978. Since then, 12 new 'Lights' have been released.
Although nearly commonplace in zone 4 landscapes today, the range of colors and flower forms in the 'Lights' azaleas were unknown even as recently as the mid-'80s when some of the richer yellow, orange, and multihued cultivars began to find their way into the landscape.
University azalea breeders continue to improve foliage quality and powdery mildew resistance. Researchers are screening 41 deciduous azalea varieties in replicated field plots in Minnesota and Ohio to identify mildew tolerant or resistant cultivars for use in future breeding. Most of the varieties in the field are also screened in growth chamber experiments to determine whether the same resistance/susceptibility reactions occur. If so, the powdery mildew screening can occur more quickly—on a smaller scale, in the off-season, and with less expense.
Breeders now also select for attractive fall foliage color, flower fragrance, and significantly extended bloom periods—cultivars that flower later into June and possibly even July.
U of M Azalea (Rhododendron) Varieties
|N/A||Apricot Surprise||1987||Light orange||Fragrant flowers and late flowering||3–4'|
|Candy Lights™||2001||Light pink||Pale yellow streaks, very fragrant||5-6'|
|Electric Lights™ Double Pink||2015||Light pink||Double flowering, true pink, buds hardy to -30°F, blooms for 7 weeks||6'|
|Electric Lights™ Red||2015||Fiery red||Blooms early. Compact, with shiny foliage, buds hardy to -30°F||4'|
|Golden Lights||1986||Golden||Fragrant. Greater mildew resistance||4-6'|
|Lemon Lights||1996||Lemon yellow||Narrower, upright plant||4-5'|
|Lilac Lights™||2001||Pinkish purple||Darker speckles on upper lobes||3.5-5'|
|Mandarin Lights||1992||Orange||Extremely hardy||5-6.5'|
|Northern Hi-Lights||1994||Creamy white||Bright yellow upper petal||5-6'|
|Northern Lights||1978||Pink||Fragrant flowers, various shades of pink||4-7'|
|Orchid Lights||1986||Orchid||Earliest flowering of the 'Lights.' Extremely hardy, compact plant||2-3'|
|Rosy Lights||1984||Deep rosy pink||Abundant blossoms, buds hardy to -45° F||4-5'|
|Spicy Lights||1987||Salmon pink||Large flowers. Early flowering||5-6.5'|
|Tri Lights™||2000||Soft pink||Deep rose buds. Yellow upper petal highlight||5'|
|White Lights||1984||White||Abundant blossoms, with slight yellow highlight||5-6'|
Candy Lights™, Electric Lights™, Lilac Lights™ and Tri Lights™ are trademarks of the University of Minnesota.