Rhododendron is a genus containing many species of shrubs and trees. Some trees grow as large as 20 feet tall, while others only reach about 16 inches tall. Most rhododendrons are prized for their beautiful flowers. The flowers come in almost any color imaginable, and some have bicolored leaves too.
Rhododendrons typically have large, oval-shaped dark green leaves. The leaves are elongated and have smooth edges and a glossy appearance. Despite more than 1000 species and trees within the rhododendron genus, other plants also have similar features.
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This makes it easy to mistakenly assume that some of these plants also fall within the same species. Some plants that look like rhododendrons but aren’t include:
- Mountain Laurel – the same leaves and growth pattern as many rhododendrons.
- Hibiscus – the flowers and plant structure resemble rhododendrons.
- Oleander – the flowers grow in similar patterns to those on a rhododendron tree.
- Frangipani – the leaves have a similar elongated shape, and the flowers also resemble that of a rhododendron.
- Chinese Magnolia – the flowers and tree size resemble that of a rhododendron.
- Malay Apple – the leaves and plant growth remind one of a rhododendron.
- Pink Trumpet Vine – leaves and flowers that resemble those of rhododendrons.
- Peach Tree – woody tree with leaves like a rhododendron.
We’ll discuss how these plants are similar to and different from rhododendrons to help you determine what shrub or tree you are looking at. So, stick around to learn more about these 8 rhododendron lookalikes.
1. Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia)
The mountain laurel is native to the USA and grows up to 15 feet tall. It is pretty easy to mistake a mountain laurel for a rhododendron, as they have many similarities. First, mountain laurels are woody trees, just like rhododendrons. It is also an evergreen, like many rhododendron species.
Moreover, mountain laurels have elongated oval leaves that look exactly like the leaves of a rhododendron. The leaves are between 3 and 6 inches long and have a glossy appearance and smooth edges.
Fortunately, the small, white lace-like flowers make it easy to identify a mountain laurel since their flowers don’t resemble those of a rhododendron. But, when the plant isn’t flowering, one might easily mistake it for a rhododendron species.
2. Hibiscus (Hibiscus)
Hibiscus trees and shrubs share many similarities with rhododendrons, including their growth and leaves. Hibiscus trees are native to China, Japan, and the Pacific islands. Just like rhododendrons, there are many varieties of hibiscus. Some of them are dwarf-sized and only grow a few feet tall, while others can grow as tall as 8 feet or more.
Hibiscus plants have woody stems and large, open flowers. You can clearly see the stamen and the inside of the hibiscus flower. These flowers look remarkably similar to some rhododendron species. However, while the flowers look similar, the leaves do not.
While rhododendrons have elongated leaves, hibiscus plants have more oval-shaped leaves. They are dark green and smooth, with tiny teeth on the edges.
3. Oleander (Nerium oleander)
Oleander shrubs are known for their beautiful flowers resembling some rhododendrons species. Oleander shrubs are native to North Africa and the Mediterranean. They grow up to 12 feet tall and nearly as wide, making them excellent fencing shrubs.
Like many rhododendron species, oleanders are evergreen. They have woody stems and large, oval-shaped leaves that look and feel like rhododendron leaves. The leaves also have prominent veins and a dark green color.
The flowers grow in bunches at the end of the stems, making it look even more like a rhododendron. The primary difference between these plants is that an Oleander’s individual flowers don’t resemble rhododendron flowers.
4. Frangipani (Plumeria)
Frangipanis are world famous for their beautiful flowers and sweet aroma. Frangipanis are native to South America and share many traits with rhododendrons, including their size. Frangipanis can grow up to 20 feet tall, making them the same size as rhododendron trees.
Like many rhododendron trees, Frangipani trees also have greyish, woody stems. Furthermore, their leaves are elongated, deeply veined, and glossy, making them look even more like a rhododendron tree. The leaves are slightly bigger than most rhododendrons.
And, while the flowers grow in bunches on the branch edges, they don’t have the same shape or texture as rhododendron flowers. Because frangipani trees also have a different scent from rhododendrons, it’s relatively easy to distinguish between these two trees.
Related: 5 Plants That Look Like Plumeria
5. Chinese Magnolia (Magnolia × soulangeana)
You are likely no stranger to the magnolia tree. It is so popular in the south of the USA that it is even the symbol of Mississippi and Louisiana. The Chinese magnolia, in particular, has many similarities with rhododendron trees.
As the name suggests, the Chinese magnolia is native to China and other Asian countries. This tree grows up to 20 feet tall, just like a rhododendron. Like some rhododendron species, it is an evergreen tree with a woody stem.
It also has dark green, glossy leaves that look like rhododendron leaves. However, the flowers are unmistakably magnolia, making it quite easy to differentiate between a rhododendron and a Chinese magnolia.
6. Malay Apple (Syzygium malaccense)
Another plant with similar looking leaves as a rhododendron is the Malay apple tree. This tree is native to Malaysia and can grow up to 60 feet tall, making it much bigger than any rhododendron. Yet, this tree’s leaves and growth might make you think it is simply a large rhododendron species.
Like rhododendrons, Malay apple trees have large, elongated leaves. The leaves are also dark green, with deep veins and a glossy finish. The Malay apple tree also has woody stems that resemble rhododendrons.
However, while other parts of the plant may resemble a rhododendron, the flowers certainly don’t. Malay apple trees produce bright pink flowers that look more like pincushions than true flowers. And, of course, the Malay apple tree produces fruit.
7. Pink Trumpet Vine (Podranea ricasoliana)
The pink trumpet vine is one vine plant with similar characteristics to a rhododendron. It is native to South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia, and Malawi. It typically grows up to 20 feet tall. This makes it the same size as a rhododendron. Apart from its size, the pink trumpet vine also has flowers that look similar to that of many rhododendron species.
Like rhododendrons, the flowers of pink trumpet vines grow closely packed at the branch edges. And, like some rhododendron species, the pink trumpet flowers have a deep, trumpet-like shape. In addition, they come in shades of pink, which makes it easier to mistake them for a rhododendron.
However, their leaves aren’t as elongated as most rhododendron plants. And, because there aren’t many rhododendron vine species, it is easy to establish that a pink trumpet vine is, in fact, not a rhododendron.
8. Peach Tree (Prunus persica)
Finally, the humble peach tree also has some characteristics that make it similar to a rhododendron. Peach trees are native to China and are now found worldwide. The peach tree usually grows between 15 and 20 feet tall, making it the same size as many rhododendron trees.
Related: 10 Gorgeous Types of Peach Trees
Peach trees also have woody stems and elongated leaves. Like rhododendrons, peach tree leaves are droopy, with prominent veins and a glossy finish. But peach trees are deciduous, while many rhododendron trees are evergreen.
Peach blossoms don’t resemble rhododendron flowers. So when you spot them from a distance, you might mistake their color for rhododendron flowers. Yet on closer inspection, you can clearly see the difference between peach blossoms and rhododendron blooms.