On a recent trip I made a stop at Coopers Rock State Forest in northeastern West Virginia. While walking to a scenic overlook of the Cheat River Gorge, I noticed many large shrubs with leaves that were still very green. Since it was November this intrigued me. After some research I found that these plants were great rhododendrons (Rhododendron maximum, Ericaceae). This shrub is also commonly called rosebay or great laurel (although they aren’t in the laurel family Lauraceae). They’re often dominant in the understory of Appalachian forests.
The reason for the green foliage in November is that these shrubs are evergreen. Broad-leaf evergreen trees and shrubs are much less common than evergreens with needle- or scale-like leaves, such as pines, firs, spruces, yews, and junipers. Like these other plants, however, the great rhododendron’s leaves are thick-skinned and covered with a waxy coat. These features protect them from the cold, dessicated air of winter.
This time of year these plants possessed clusters of fruit capsules (the reddish-brown cluster near the center of the photo above). This fruit is the result of the pollination of the showy flowers that grow throughout the summer. These plants also possessed flower buds (the paler structures at the ends of the branches in the photo above), ready to grow new flowers next season.