The large grape-sized Rhododendron flower bud, formed in the previous season, will eventually develop into a grapefruit-size, purple bloom. Note how the shrub’s leaves at this time hang downward as if wilting. Typically, during the growing season, the Rhododendron foliage is positioned horizontally. I can quickly get an idea of what the winter temperature is by looking out the window at this plant. The colder the temperature, the more vertically the leaves drop and curl. When this image was taken, it was 13 F. Though a variety of theories abound, it appears the leaf’s positioning is the plant’s response at a cellular level to the cold. The rhododendron is a broad-leaf evergreen plant and in a dormant stage with freezing temperatures, it has to minimize exposure to the sun. When the leaves are horizontal and open (not curled), they will absorb the maximum amount of the sun’s rays. This would prompt the mechanisms of the photosynthesis machine to kick-in and crank away. Yet, in the frozen, dormant stage it isn’t prepared for this operation nor can it draw upon the water resources required in the process and the result would be tissue damage and what we’d see as winter burn. The drooping and curling of leaves in the bitter cold minimizes surface area exposure to the sunlight. It is as if the plant is safely hunkering down until warmer weather returns. Truly, the Rhododendron exhibits a unique defense mechanism of survival in winter weather.