What Is The State Flower of Washington?

Pacific rhododendron in front of the Washington state capitol building.
Pacific rhododendron in front of the Washington state capitol building.

Washington is a state located in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. The state covers an area of 71,362 sq mi and had a population of 7,405,743 in 2017. Washington was admitted to the union as the 42nd state of the United States on November 11, 1889. The official state flower of Washington is the Rhododendron macrophyllum, known as the Pacific rhododendron, California rosebay, California rhododendron, coast rhododendron, or big leaf rhododendron. The plant is indigenous to several places in North America’s Pacific Coast, including California's Monterey Bay, the Cascade Range, and the Coast Mountains, and has a northern limit near the US-Canada border. Unlike other plants of its type, the Pacific rhododendron does well in environments that have experienced some type of disturbance. Examples of these habitats include deforested wildlands and embankments on the roadside. In addition to disturbed environments, the flower can also grow on mountains.

Description of the Pacific Rhododendron

The Pacific rhododendron is an evergreen shrub that can grow to heights of between 7 and 30 feet. The plant has large leaves, with an average length of between three and nine inches and an average width ranging from one to three inches, and it retains its leaves for a period of up to three years. The flowers have a length ranging from 1.1 to 1.6 inches, and are usually pink in color, although some variations in the color exist. Another physical characteristic of the flower is that its corolla, or petals, have five lobes.

The flower and leaves of the Pacific rhododendron are toxic, and therefore should be avoided by humans and wildlife. Animal owners, especially those who graze their animals, should make sure livestock avoid the plant. Animals that have ingested the plant have been known to become ill, sometimes fatally. Farmers should be especially careful between the months of May and July since that is the peak period of the Pacific rhododendron.

History of the State Flower

The Pacific rhododendron was unofficially chosen as Washington's state flower in 1892. The plant was selected among a group of six flowers through a statewide election to be entered in the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. However, it was not until 1959 that the state legislature declared the Pacific rhododendron as Washington's official flower.

The Pacific rhododendron was discovered in May 1792 by Scottish botanist Archibald Menzies and British naval officer George Vancouver. The pair discovered the flower growing along with Pacific Madrona (Arbutus menziesii) near Port Discovery, Washington. The seed of the Pacific rhododendron was later sent to English plant collector William Lobb in 1850.

Today, the plant has been a major focus of the Rhododendron Species Foundation in Washington. Under the Western North American Rhododendron Species Project, the foundation aims to document the plant’s range and types.


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