Legacy Project Page

Harris Azaleas

‘Frosted Orange’
Azalea ‘Frosted Orange’, Photo by Bob Stelloh

Legacy Lead: (None currently assigned)

Hybridizer: James Harris
James Harris was the ARS Azalea Chapter's most accomplished azalea hybridizer. James was born in Cumming, GA and attended public schools in Gainesville. He was married to Ella Ruth Johnson and had two sons. He became interested in azaleas after observing some white evergreen azaleas at the Harrises' first home. He continued his interest and learned on his own the various aspects of azalea culture. In his early years he became acquainted with Ralph Pennington, a prominent nurseryman and hybridizer. He also developed a relationship with Bruce Hancock, who was a horticulturist and hybridizer. These associations had a significant influence on James' work.

The Harris work, 1970 - 1985, dealt primarily with developing large-blooming and heat-tolerant evergreens. One of the first efforts was 'Pink Cascade', an azalea with a cascading growth habit. It was patented in Europe and thousands of the cultivar were sold. He developed many selections that became popular in the South and elsewhere. Many of the early selections were named for members of the Pennington Chapter of the Azalea Society. These included 'Cille Shaw', 'Lee Thomas', 'Margaret Rowell', 'Mary Ann Egan', and 'Mattie Barron'. A second phase of James' work, 1985 - 2002, is known as his "Red Phase" His goal was to develop plants that had good red blooms and that could withstand sub- zero winters. His beautiful reds include 'Midnight Flare", probably the best dark red evergreen; 'Coronado Red, recognized by some as the most outstanding red azalea; 'Rainfire'; 'Miss Susie'; and 'Jay Valentine', named for James' grandson, whose birthday is on Valentine's Day. In the later phases of his work, James concentrated on dual bloomers and was successful in developing cultivars that were patented and are sold by McCorkle Nurseries under the trademark name Bloom-N-Again®. To date (February 2014), McCorkle Nurseries offers twenty-five of Harris's hybrids in their Bloom 'N Again® series. His early works were not registered, but the Azalea Chapter helped register twenty-two of his azaleas in 2008.

James was a diligent student of plant hybridization. Most of his knowledge came from extensive hands on working experience. Through his study of various plant features, he was able to select the proper parents for his crosses. Although having only limited formal educational opportunities, he achieved a significant notch in azalea hybridization, which has been recognized by the popularity of his plants. One prominent rhododendron authority has stated "... his azaleas will live long and say much about a great man. He left a heritage that will live on."

Project Presentation: (None available at this time)

Project Attachments:

Additional James Harris Hybrids Ann McPhail
Harris Hybrids Azalea Chapter, ARS
In Memory -- James O. Harris Ken Gohring
James Harris Hybrids Roger Duvall
The Harris Hybrids Dewey Garrett
The James Harris Azaleas: A 25-Year Status Report James Harris