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Photo of a biker holding up a young child
A biker and his young friend enjoy the Rhododendron Festival Parade, 1996

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Florence Rhododendron Festival
A Local Legacy

Do you know what a rhododendron looks like? It is a big bush-like plant with large and numerous flowers in shades of pink, red, purple and white.

Rhododendron is the common name for a flowering plant of the heath family, which has more than 850 species. They are native to the Himalayas, southeastern Asia, the mountains of Malaysia and the coast of the Northern Hemisphere. In Florence, Oregon, the beautiful white-pink plant begins to bloom in May, and by June the surrounding area is covered with its warm, radiant colors.

The Florence Rhododendron Festival celebrates the arrival of spring. The pioneers believed that the bloom of the rhododendrons meant that summer was around the corner and the cold and rain of winter would soon end. The festival was first held in 1908. Because modes of transportation have changed since then, the festival has changed too. To get to the festival back then many people took stagecoaches pulled by horses; a few years later, they arrived by train on the new railroad. By the 1940s automobiles were common, and that's how most people got to Florence. By 1960, automobiles were so popular that the festival began to feature a show for fancy sports cars. Another popular event was the motorcycle races. For the past 20 years, "bikers" (the casual name for motorcycle riders) have come to Florence from all over the West Coast to watch the races and see old friends. And, of course, they come to enjoy the beautiful rhododendrons.

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