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R. maximum is an evergreen shrub growing to 4 m (13 ft), rarely 10 m (33 ft), tall. The leaves are 9–19 cm (3–8 in) long and 2–4 cm (0.75-1.5 in) broad. The flowers are 2.5–3 cm (1 in) diameter, white, pink or pale purple, often with small greenish-yellow spots. The fruit is a dry capsule 15–20 mm (.60-.79 in) long, containing numerous small seeds. The leaves can be poisonous. Leaves are sclerophyllous, simple, alternate, and oblong (10 to 30 cm long, 5 to 8 cm wide). It retains its waxy, deep-green leaves for up to 8 years, but once shed are slow to decompose. It produces large, showy, white to purple flowers each June.
Rosebay rhododendron is the most frequently occurring and dominant species of Rhododendron in the southern Appalachian region, and occurs occasionally on mesic hill-slopes throughout the upper Piedmont Crescent of the Southeastern United States. This one was photographed along the trail to Twin Falls in Pickens County, SC.
Its common names include great rhododendron, great laurel, rosebay rhododendron, American rhododendron and big rhododendron. The wood is very hard and is occasionally used for specialty wood products.