In Seattle, the rhododendrons make a stunning display of blossoms in the late spring, then fade away into the green background in summer when the hydrangeas are in full bloom. In July, the hydrangea is surely the showier shrub. The hydrangeas lose both their petals and their leaves, though, before we march too far into fall. As the world around grows more brown and bare, the rhododendrons take on their second beauty. Something I didn't know until my first winter in Seattle: The rhododendon (Washington's official flower) is evergreen.
It's fertile ground for metaphor: the contrast between evergreen and deciduous plants. I have used the image of the rhododendron and the hydrangea in poetry, to illustrate loyalty and enduring bonds. In "Love and Friendship" Emily Bronte uses the metaphor of evergreen holly and deciduous rose-briar to illustrate the lasting bonds of friendship. Love, she suggests, is, like the rose, bare in December.
"Love and Friendship" can be the springboard for some interesting discussion at the middle school and high school levels. As a writing extension, students can select two plants native to their area and use them to represent contrasting human traits.