Phoenix Perennials and Specialty Plants

From the E-Newsletter: June 2006

Positively Primeval and Oh So Exotic
Species Rhododendrons with Fabulous Foliage

Living in a region of the world known for its incredible displays of rhododendrons you probably think you've seen it all. I thought I had seen it all until I visited two different gardens: the 400 species strong collection at the UBC Botanical Garden and my friend Dana's place. Wow! I quickly realized that there is a whole world of amazing rhododendrons yet to discover. Among the most exciting are those species with large leaves (by large I mean up to 15 inches long!) and those with interesting furriness (indumentum) in shades of white, brown and cinnamon. These intriguing species rhodos are bold and dramatic. Their look is primeval conjuring visions of exotic mist enshrouded Asian forests. In the garden they would serve well as focal points in the shade garden surrounded by ferns, hostas, paris, ariseamas, solomon's seals and giant himalayan lilies.

Introducing 10 incredible species rhododendrons currently at the nursery:

R. arboreum ssp. arboreum has red flowers (occasionally white or pink) and elliptic leaves up to seven and a half inches long. The leaves have a silvery white fuzzy indumentum on the undersides. Grows to six feet in 10 years. Blooms in early spring. From India, Nepal and Bhutan. Zone 8.

R. auriculatum: White (occasionally pink) funnel-shaped, fragrant blooms in loose trusses. The leaves are oblong and up to 12 inches long! Grows to six feet in 10 years. Blooms in late spring. From China. Zone 7.

R. cinnabarinum ssp. xanthocodon: Bell-shaped, semi-pendant, yellow, orange, apricot or purple flowers. The leaves are broadly elliptic and a more common four inches long. But they are strongly fragrant when rubbed! Grows to five feet in 10 years. Blooms in mid to late spring. From India, Bhutan and Tibet. Zone 8.

R. fortunei: Open to funnel-shaped, pale lavender or pale pink to white, fragrant flowers. Trusses hold 5-12 flowers each. The leaves are up to seven inches long held with purplish leaf stems to equally purplish stems. Grows to six feet in 10 years. Blooms in mid to late spring. From China. Zone 6.

R. macabeanum: Tubular to narrowly funneled bell-shaped yellow flowers usually blotched with purple. Each truss holds up to 30 flowers in a large sphere of yellow. The leaves are broadly ovate to elliptic and are up to 15 inches long with a whitish to light tan indumentum. Grows to 5 feet in 10 years. Zone 8.

R. macrophyllum: Our native rhododendron has broadly bell-shaped, pink to rosy purple, occasionally white, flowers spotted yellow. The truss holds 10-20 flowers. The leaves are oblong to elliptic and up to nine inches long. Grows to five feet in 10 years. Blooms in mid to late spring. From western North America: British Columbia to California. Zone 7.

R. makinoi: Funneled, bell-shaped, pink to off-white flowers, sometimes spotted crimson. Trusses typically have five to eight flowers. Leaves lanceolate, recurved, up to seven inches long with thick white to tawny indumentum. Grows to three feet in 10 years into a dense and rounded shrub. Blooms in mid spring. From Japan. Zone 6.

R. pachysanthum: The funnelled bell-shaped white to pale pink flowers are usually spotted green or crimson. Each truss holds 10-20 flowers. The leaves ovate to lanceolate and up to four inches long. The upper surface sports a persistent silvery to brown indumentum. The lower surface has a thick rusty brown indumentum. Grows to 2 feet tall in 10 years. From Taiwan. Zone 6b.

R. rex ssp. fictolacteum: Oblique bell-shaped white, also pale lilac to pink, blotched and spotted crimson. The ball-shaped truss holds 12-30 flowers. Leaves up to 12 inches long with an attractive rusty brown to dark brown indumentum underneath. Grows to three feet in 10 years into a dense and rounded shrub. Blooms in mid spring. From China and northeast Myanmar. Zone 7.

R. strigillosum: This early-blooming species has tubular bell-shaped, deep red to crimson-scarlet flowers with dark red nectar pouches. The flat truss has 8-12 flowers. The leaves are elliptic to oblanceolate and are up to seven inches long often with recurved and bristly leaf edges. From northeastern Yunnan and Sichuan, China. Zone 7.

Cultivation: Plant in classic rhododenron conditions: shade to part shade in rich, evenly moist but well-drained soils. The large-leaved species should be protected from wind. If you're worried about the hardiness of the zone 8 species in your gardens plant them in a protected location where larger trees will shelter them from frosts and you should be fine.



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