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L. Clarence Towe

Travels from:

Walhalla, South Carolina

Speaking topics:

  • American azaleas

L. Clarence Towe

For more than 25 years L. Clarence Towe, a retired educator from South Carolina, has observed American azaleas in their native habitats. More recently, he has introduced many new azalea cultivars into circulation. In addition to his book, he shares his enthusiasm for these plants by lecturing and writing articles for the Journal of the American Rhododendron Society.

Clarence travels the back roads in search of azaleas and along the way discovers places where time has slowed to a crawl. Each year he sets out with renewed anticipation of spotting new and uncultivated varieties. He meets remarkable plant enthusiasts and tells great stories like the one about an old-timer who, when asked how he managed to find so many unusual plants, said simply, "It's easy to spot a stranger."

Clarence's writing style is as colorful as the photos in American Azaleas. With wisdom and humor he takes us into remote areas where one might expect to stumble onto a distillery. He and his two plant-hunting buddies work their way across the Appalachian Trail, through Georgia and North and South Carolina indeed every geographic range of the various species scouring the U.S. for spectacular and unidentified specimens.

"Through trial and error, I settled on a red and blue Scottish plaid bag made of woven plastic, similar to car upholstery material used in the 1950s," says Clarence of his plant-collecting gear. "The key to being seen in the woods with a lady's shopping bag is to walk with a sense of purpose and avoid eye contact with strangers. So far it has worked."

L. Clarence Towe is eminently qualified to introduce American azaleas into gardens, and in 2005, he was presented the Azalea Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society's highest award, the Bronze Medal, in recognition of his years of outstanding effort on behalf of the chapter and the society.

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