Friday, January 12, 2018

Sharing Plants

I don't have a problem with Chinese products for sale in America; obviously no one forces us to buy them. I did perk to attention, however, about ten years ago when Japanese maples began showing up in Oregon nurseries. Ultimately I think their market fizzled because our economy was beginning to gasp for breath at that time and there was a significant oversupply of maples. Maybe there was simultaneously some American governmental regulations that stymied the Chinese, such as in The Netherlands when bad bugs were discovered in maple shipments. Another problem for the Chinese was that they were peddling maples that were not true to name, and I saw a group of these for myself at another nursery.

Maybe the Chinese plant producers will eventually establish themselves in America – I wouldn't be surprised to see cheap maples in the box stores for example, where poor quality and shoddy identification are trumped by low price. In 2017 I had two different Chinese companies visit my nursery with a desire to purchase starts of nearly everything: “for our domestic market, for our domestic market only.” Yeah, right. I declined but added that they could have everything they wanted, but they would have to purchase the entire nursery. “Oooh.” In both cases they stumbled onto the Buchholz website where we appear highly prominent, in spite of the reality of our small size. They travelled to Oregon primarily to do business with Buchholz Nursery, and left feeling surprised by rejection.

The problem with our website – in particular the photo library – is that plantsmen world-wide peruse it with the assumption that all plants depicted are in production and for sale. Rong! When one clicks onto Our Plants they are warned in lurid red type: Although our Plant Library contains thousands of interesting and hard to find plants, please understand that we do not necessarily offer all of these for sale. Please consult our availability listings for current stock. The library is a record of all that I have seen, my autobiography as I have stated before. The majority of plants contained are not even grown at Buchholz Nursery. Sorry for the confusion, but pay attention.

Recently I received a plant request email from Korea, from a Mr. Kim Pungkil of the Milim Botanic Garden. No doubt he spent hours looking at my photos and making a desire list. I groaned because even though I'm not opposed to helping his institution, I don't have many of the plants, and besides: the logistics of international plant sales are time consuming and daunting. We keep an inventory of all plants on our sales list, but not for all the plants in our collection. Pretty much I am the only one here with a clue as to their whereabouts, so it's a task that I cannot delegate. I'm well occupied with keeping the nursery afloat, with my duties as father and husband, and with being an awesome employer for my crew, and it would take hours trying to find plants or scionwood from his list. I don't know what I'll do – maybe try to find a few things to send to him. By the way, this Mr. Kim Pungkil is undoubtedly responsible for the superb Acer palmatum cultivar of the same name.

After first scoffing and grunting and tossing away Kim's list, I picked it back up to analyze his requests one by one.

Acer 'Red Flamingo'

Acer 'Silver Cardinal'

Acer 'Red Flamingo' – we used to propagate it by rooted cuttings in the summer under mist. It was a pretty selection but sales were weak because it wasn't very hardy. One winter the trunks were damaged on my stock plants which were in an unheated poly house. Eventually I tired of looking at them and they were dumped...and I immediately felt better. The nomenclature was murky with 'Red Flamingo' anyway. In the Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs it is described as an Acer x conspicuum (A. davidii x A pensylvanicum) which should be hardy in Oregon. It is said to have originated as a sport of A. 'Silver Cardinal' which Hillier also lists as A. x conspicuum. Then Hillier backtracks by suggesting that 'Silver Cardinal' – which we also grew and discontinued – “is said to be a seedling of A. pensylvanicum but appears close to A. rubescens.” This A. rubescens Hayata was formerly listed as A. morrisonense Li, therefore a native to Taiwan, so no wonder my plants were not hardy. Maple authority De Beaulieu doesn't acknowledge the A. rubescens species, nor does he with A. morrisonense. Anyway, no 'Red Flamingo' for Pungkil.

Acer x conspicuum 'Phoenix'

Hmm...Acer x conspicuum 'Phoenix' probably is a true A. davidii x A. pensylvanicum hybrid, and over the years we have grown a few thousand of them. One can propagate it by grafting onto any stripe-bark maple such as A. davidii (USDA zone 5), A. tegmentosum (USDA zone 4), A. rufinerve (USDA zone 5) etc. It has been called “tricky” to propagate (Blue Bell Nursery, England) but we do fairly well with winter grafts when the scionwood is sufficiently hardened. I was interested to discover about 15 years ago that another Oregon nursery was offering plants propagated by tissue culture. Did these produce the same red winter bark, were they as hardy on their own presumptive roots, would the trees grow as vigorously etc.? I haven't heard anything further about those I just continue producing mine the old fashioned way, and we have no trouble selling out our inventory. A nurseryman mustn't grow too complacent, however, because there are always companies more intelligent and industrious than you, and you might suddenly find yourself in the slow-lane of commerce.

Acer palmatum 'Beni kawa'

Acer palmatum 'Japanese Sunrise'

Acer palmatum 'Japanese Sunrise'

Acer palmatum 'Beni kawa' (“red bark”): I have some plants around but we haven't grafted it for a few years so I don't have anything but scionwood to send. 'Beni kawa' is another one of the 'Sango kaku' look-alikes along with 'Japanese Sunrise' and 'Red Wood'. Various maple growers and collectors prefer one over the others on the basis of more hardiness, or for more red bark, or for leafing out later etc. I don't know – I can't tell any of them apart without their labels – but for some reason we have singled out 'Japanese Sunrise' for our production.

Nyssa sylvatica 'Autumn Cascade'

Nyssa sylvatica 'Autumn Cascade'

Nyssa sylvatica 'Autumn Cascade' was selected as a seedling at Yamina Rare Plants in Australia by Arnold Teese. It is a vigorous, strongly weeping cultivar and we prune the top and bottom annually to keep it in bounds. Fall color varies between yellow, orange and red, and leaves are attractively shiny green in summer. My one specimen resides happily along the main road into the nursery but we have never propagated it. Pungkil says “I order it as a plants[sic]. If it is out of stock please give me a scion wood.” Does he really have rootstock ready to receive anything from his list as scionwood? I just wonder...who he is, who is he?

Nyssa sylvatica 'Zydeco Twist'

The reason I don't propagate Nyssa is because they are a tough sell, even for an attractive weeper I'm supposing. One exception to that is N.s. 'Zydeco Twist' which is odd enough to command a market. For me it is a compact bush with ebee-jebee twisting stems that give the grafter a fit to find a straight section. The origin of the word zydeco is not certain, but possibly from Creole French pronunciation of French les haricots (“the beans”), part of the title of a popular dance tune, Les haricots ne sont pas sales. When spoken in the Louisiana Creole French it sounds like “leh-zy-dee-co nuh sohn pay salay.” Literally it means “the snap beans aren't salty” which implies “I have no spicy news for you,” due to the speaker's lack of energy. There are other theories, but zydeco music (Swamp pop) involves a swaying movement like the plant's stems.

Cupressus glabra 'Picasso'
Cupressus glabra 'Chaparral'

Pungkil wants three different cultivars of Cupressus glabra: 'Picasso', 'Raywood's Weeping' and 'Chaparral'. The 'Picasso' plant I don't have and the photo was taken elsewhere. I remember it as an ugly plant not worth pursuing. 'Chaparral' was nice, but again the photo was taken elsewhere and I've never had one. 'Raywood's Weeping' I could do – I have one tree left in the arboretum. I discontinued it years ago because the tops of the grafts grow too fast and the less vigorous roots could never keep up. What will Pungkil graft onto anyway? Does he have Cupressus glabra – or the closely related Cupressus arizonica – rootstock? Other rootstock can be used, such as Thuja, Juniperus and x Cupressocyparis but the graft unions will be unsightly as the top outgrows the bottom.

Quercus cerris 'Variegata'

Pungkil wants a Quercus cerris 'Variegata', sometimes known as 'Argenteovariegata', and I'd like one too. The photo of the “Variegated Turkey oak” was taken at Arboretum Trompenburg in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, and I have never seen it offered for sale in an American nursery. Q. cerris is a large deciduous tree that is common and has naturalized in much of Europe. The word cerris is from Latin cerrus which is probably from Proto-Indo-European kar meaning “hard.” The wood may be hard, but since it is prone to cracking and splitting it is not preferred for building.

Parrotia persica 'Vanessa'

Parrotia persica 'Vanessa'

Parrotia persica 'Lamplighter'

Parrotia persica in Iran
A genus also noted for hard wood (Ironwood) is Parrotia persica, and the cultivars 'Vanessa' and 'Lamplight' [sic] were on his wish list. 'Lamplighter' is the correct name for the variegated selection but I don't grow it because it frequently reverts. I have some large 'Vanessa' in the landscape, a form with a more narrow and compact habit than the type. It was a seedling selection from The Netherlands and was introduced in 1975. We discontinued it in favor of an even more narrow Parrotia, 'Persian Spire'. The genus name honors F.W. Parrot, a German naturalist who visited Persia (Iran) in the early 1800's. While there he climbed Mt. Ararat (16,854') in 1829 which was the first recorded ascent, but some insist that Noah's Ark was parked there long before. The photo to the right was taken in Iran where Parrotia is used to fence in livestock.

Parrotia persica 'Pendula' in Europe

Parrotia persica 'Pendula' from the Arnold Arboretum

Parrotia persica 'Pendula' – I have a form of it but mine is not nearly as pendulous as what I have seen in Europe, or maybe it's that my form is the same as in Europe but just too rambunctious in my garden. We used to root and grow it staked to about 6'. There it was topped, but not much evident weeping ever occurred, and I don't care for any 'Pendula' that doesn't weep at a reasonable age so we discontinued it. My start came from the Arnold Arboretum of Boston, an institution noted for correct nomenclature.

Liquidambar styraciflua 'Slender Silhouette' (First propagule on the left)

Don Shadow


Also on the list is Nyssa sylvatica 'Slender Silhouette', but certainly he means Liquidambar styraciflua. The splendidly narrow “Sweet gum” is my imagination of the perfect landscape tree, especially for the smaller garden. The species features green maple-like leaves but the genus is in the Hamamelidaceae family. Autumn color is amazing for 'Slender Silhouette' as it is for the entire species, ranging from yellow to orange to burgundy, and the leaves persist for weeks. This fantastic cultivar was discovered and introduced by the noted plantsman Don Shadow of Tennessee, and thankfully he never got around to patenting it. Strangely – or not? – the mother tree was cut down, and one wonders if someone was trying to corner the market by eliminating future propagules. I have seen the first graft of this cultivar at Shadow's home landscape, so that's as close as I'll get to see the original. Besides plant introductions Shadow is famous as a zoologist who keeps about 800 exotic animals from 60 different animal species. Don drove me through the southern Tennessee countryside where I could see wild donkeys, emus, tapirs, camels etc. on his extensive properties. When someone asked him what was his favorite – plants or animals? – he responded that it was plants when the new grafts were growing, but animals when a camel was giving birth. Actually I hate animals, the stinky creatures, though I'm willing to see them in a zoo or under someone else's care. Plants occupy a more elevated realm in my opinion, for they are more quiet and elegant and their copulations are more discreet.

Quercus robur 'Butterbee'

Pungkil wants a start of Quercus robur 'Butterbee', and it was the second request this week; that's odd because one can go years, decades even, before anyone shows any interest in some of our plants. The other 'Butterbee' request earlier in the week was from someone in the Oak Society and I sent him a couple of scions. It was supposed by this society member that, while similar to the better known golden cultivar, 'Concordia', 'Butterbee' displayed better color and was less prone to sun burn. I don't think it is better at all, except for maybe a more fun name, but I sure was hopeful when I first discovered it as a random seedling. The reason we discontinued Quercus production is because both 'Butterbee' and 'Concordia' don't shape very well (for us) in containers. And, in the field, they both burn the first few years; and besides the growth rates vary with field-grown plants where some take off and prosper while others linger as runts their whole life. I suspect that chip-budding in the field would produce better crops versus planting out the side-grafts that we do, but the problem is that I have no employee left in the company who has ever performed a chip bud. I have done a few with other species so maybe I'll try it.

Pinus bungeana at the University of Tennessee Botanic Gardens

Pinus bungeana 'Temple Gem'

In trying to research Kim Pungkil the internet was of no use, though one can connect on Facebook with Jesus Pungkil, a teacher at the University of the Philippines. Also the Milim Botanic Garden on his letterhead leads to nothing from the internet. I do have Kim's email, so maybe I'll contact him and we can send some plants to an address in America and they can figure out how to get them to Korea. Or I could just drop it and not respond, but that would be lazy and maybe even bad karma. The success of Buchholz Nursery is due to the hard work of my employees, but also due to the generosity with plant starts from other growers and collectors. I've never been to Korea, but who knows: maybe one day I can visit and see my plants there. A few years ago I was visiting the University of Tennessee Botanic Garden and I was surprised – but very pleased – to see my introduction of Pinus bungeana 'Temple Gem'. I didn't send it to them but somehow it got there.

Back to the Chinese visitors who I wouldn't accommodate, if they would have asked for just a few plants I would have agreed. Or buy the entire nursery – it's always for sale.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Happy New Year

The Buchholz family is relatively low key when it comes to New Year's Eve celebration. I lit a bonfire and the kids made s'mores while the adults sipped on Oregon's famed pinot noir. When toasting, Americans say “cheers.”

In Japan kanpai
Spain salud
Korea gun bae
Italy cin cin
Vietnam do
Portugal saude
Romania noroc
Germany prost
Sweden skal
France sante
Finland kippis
Thailand chokdee
Israel l'chaim

The next morning, on New Year's Day, I was greeted with a beautiful sunrise which hopefully bodes for a happy future.

Good luck to all, let's not kill each other this year.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Favorite Rhododendron Species in the Flora Wonder Arboretum

Rhododendron barbatum

Rhododendron macabeanum
Rhododendron montroseanum


I've mentioned before that I used to work for a large wholesale nursery, and there we grew thousands of Rhododendrons*, hardy hybrids mainly. I planted, pruned, fertilized, watered and harvested scads of plants, so to some degree I would have been considered an expert on Rhododendrons. But I never thought so, nor did I consider the nursery owner an expert either. We could crank out crop after crop of varieties that East Coast brokers told us to grow. I learned that 'Bow Bells' had a pretty blossom but was a naturally leggy plant, that 'Jean Marie de Montague' was brittle when you tied up the top to dig, and that 'Vulcan' would burn in full sun whenever the temperature soared into the hundreds. But I knew nothing about the origin of these hybrids, about who preformed the crosses and from what species.

*From Greek rhodon for “rose” and dendron for “tree.”

Rhododendron arboreum ssp. arboreum

All of this occurred in the early 1970's, and back then I dismissed the Rhododendron genus as a fairly boring group of shrubs. They were evergreen blobs that filled the landscape, and were redeemed for only a couple of weeks in spring and summer when they bloomed. Otherwise they were forgettable. All of that changed in 1979 when I temporarily quit the nursery business to explore in the Himalaya, and I remember walking under them – R. arboreum, the national flower of Nepal – and walking among the alpine scrubs at the higher elevations.

Reuben Hatch

Now I have a nice collection of Rhododendron species due to my membership in Washington state's Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden. Furthermore I befriended Reuben Hatch (my Grandfather) about thirty years ago, and he was a nurseryman who specialized in “Rhododendrons for the Discerning Gardener,” so I have dozens of starts from his collection. Now I appreciate the genus for the foliage as much as for any blossom. Even though I don't travel as much as I used to, one of the greatest delights is to witness trees in the wild in far-off places and then to also grow them yourself...thence the Flora Wonder Arboretum. Let's take a stroll through the grounds and I'll point out some of my favorites.

Abies forest in the Himalaya

Rhododendron kesangiae

R. kesangiae is a lofty tree-like species with large glossy-green leaves. Flowers can vary from purple, pink, to pure white and I have the var. album form. It is endemic to Bhutan and was named in honor of Kesang, the Queen Mother of Bhutan, and the suffix iae denotes a female as name recipient in botanical nomenclature. Even though it grows up to 10,000' in altitude in the eastern Himalayan foothills, its hardiness rating is only to 5 degrees F (-15 C), nevertheless my young plant survived to 3 degrees F last winter with no apparent damage. I first saw R. kesangiae as an understory tree in the fir forests about 25 years ago, but at the time I couldn't identify the species, and surprisingly – even though common – it was first described in only 1989 by D.G. Long and K. Rushforth.

Rhododendron strigillosum

Rhododendron strigillosum

E.H. Wilson

Dr. Frank Mossman

Rhododendron 'Taurus

R. strigillosum is a Chinese species with a slow rate of growth, or at least my one plant has been restrained. It is an attractive foliage plant – as long as you keep weevils off of it – due to long narrow leaves. Surrounding the flower buds the leaf petioles display noticeable reddish hairs, and it is known in China as mang ci dujuan, or “prickly Rhododendron.” The definition of strigillosum is that which has a strigil, an instrument with a curved blade, used by ancient Greeks and Romans for scraping the skin at the bath. Anyway R. strigillosum features blood-red flowers that bloom as early as March, so you'll see it planted in some of the world's top winter gardens. It was introduced into England by the famous plant explorer E.H. Wilson in 1904 when he was collecting for the Veitch Nursery firm. My start came from Reuben Hatch who has a nice form of the species, as variations in the wild occur and some plants bloom with a washed-out red blossom. R. strigillosum is a parent of some notable hybrids, my favorite being 'Taurus', bred with 'Jean Marie de Montague' by the late plantsman Frank Mossman of Vancouver, Washington.

Rhododendron orbiculare 'Edinburgh'

Rhododendron orbiculare 'Edinburgh'

Rhododendron orbiculare 'Exbury'

No mention of my favorites can avoid R. orbiculare, and I have two from highly esteemed collections: one, from the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh in Scotland, and the other the Exbury form from the famous garden in Hampshire, England which belongs to a branch of the Rothschild family. Believe me, there is absolutely nothing wrong with filthy wealth as long as it is spent on featuring our planet's floral best. R. orbiculare is so-named for its round leaves and it is a dense shrub that will grow to about three feet in ten years. The campanulate (bell-shaped) flowers are deep pink and appear in May, and at that time the Chinese species is everybody's favorite rhododendron. Even when not in bloom the green rounded leaves with a heart-shaped base have insured its popularity since its introduction in 1904, but it took until 2002 before the Royal Horticultural Society deemed it worthy of an Award of Garden Merit. I beat the RHS by at least 20 years when it gained the plebian Buchholz Award of Excellence in 1980 and it is currently being propagated and sold by our nursery.

Rhododendron campanulatum ssp. aeruginosum

Rhododendron campanulatum ssp. aeruginosum

Another bell-shaped bloomer is R. campanulatum ssp. aeruginosum, except that I wouldn't give a hoot if it never bloomed at all. [I had to re-read the preceding sentence carefully so that I didn't repeat what an enthused customer declared a few years ago at the nursery when he witnessed an R. camp. ssp. aer. in spring – “that's the most incredible thing I never saw.”]. What is so incredible are the new blue leaves, for they perk up at attention like the fabulous Hosta 'Blue Mouse Ears'. I have seen this rhododendron in the wild, or at least I think I have – remembering the blue metallic sheen – in the alpine regions of Nepal at about 13,000' elevation. I don't know, though, because every Himalayan plant in situ appears different than it does in a sea-level garden, and also because the explorer himself is giddy with much excitement about what he is observing. The ssp. aeruginosum name is a Latin word meaning “copper rust” due to the blue-green pigment.

Rhododendron augustinii 'Smoke'

Rhododendron augustinii 'Smoke'

Augustine Henry
Do you see that empty space in the garden? – it used to be home to R. augustinii 'Smoke' but I gave up on it for looking horrible after last year's cold winter. It survived and looked good after a couple of previous winters that dropped to even a few degrees more cold, but that can be the way with plants: they don't always reveal to you what they are going through. I've left the space open with the intention of refilling it with 'Smoke', or another cultivar of R. augustinii, but never found it available last year. Oh well, you don't always get a second chance with plants, and just be thankful that you had a few good years of a relationship. It was an example where the flowers impressed me and the foliage really never did; blooms could range in color form whitish blue to deep blue to a purplish blue, but I don't know if the variation was on account of different collections, or from seeing the same clone at different times and in different soils. What struck me most was the luminosity of the flowers which seemed to glow even on cloudy days. The R. augustinii species is from Sichuan and Hubei in China and was named for Augustine Henry (1857-1930), the Irish custom's inspector who became a noted plant discoverer in his adopted country. Henry sent over 15,000 dried specimens and seed to Kew Gardens as well as 500 plant samples, and is well-known for assisting plant collector E.H. Wilson in his quest to collect seed of Davidia involucrata.

Rhododendron boothii

Joseph Hooker
One of the gems in the conservatory at the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden is R. boothii and thanks to them I have a small plant of it. The small yellow flowers in spring are nice but certainly not awesome, and it is the copper-red new growth on hairy leaves that I admire the most. It is probably hardy to only 10 degrees F, USDA zone 8, so I also keep my plant in a heated greenhouse. Collecting plants from the temperate rain forests of the Eastern Himalaya is an invitation to the plant gods to cause your greenhouse heater to fail – you know, to keep you humble – and I have suffered many such losses in the past. R. boothii was described by Thomas Nuttall and published in Hookers Journal of Botany, 1853, and the type was located in Bhutan at 5,000' elevation as epiphytic on oaks. The specific name honors the botanist T.J. Booth (1829-?). S. Hootman of the RSBG reports that it is very slow-growing and requires excellent drainage. Furthermore the only place where he has seen it “growing in the wild is on the sides of maple trees, rooted into the bark.” It is fascinating to know that the Director of the Rhododendron Species Botanic Garden – in the 21st century – along with his American cohorts (Far Reaches in Washington state) and the Coxes (from Glendoick in Scotland) are still discovering species and forms that Britain's Hooker and the other great plant explorers undertook one hundred and sixty-some years ago. Hopefully after Hootman et. al. grow long in the tooth there'll be replacements who will carry on in the spirit of plant exploration in our world's far-flung places.

Rhododendron bureavii

Rhododendron bureavii

Rhododendron bureavii

Louis Bureau
R. bureavii was one of my first acquisitions from plantsman Hatch. When my start was large enough I planted it out in the Display Garden in full sun where it scorched nearly to death the first summer. I dug it up and gave it two years to recover in a shaded greenhouse, then replanted it outside in a more shady location – or in a shadow as the Dutch say. Flowers are white to pink with purple spots inside; they are mildly attractive to me but it's surprising that R. bureavii received an Award of Merit for the flowers in 1939. The Award of Merit for the foliage took until 1972, but the foliage is the reason I grow it. Leaf undersides display a luxurious dose of reddish indumentum and as you can see the new growth is equally impressive. It is a compact shrub growing more broad than tall, and it comes from Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces in China at 9,186-14,763' (2800-4500m). It was introduced by E.H. Wilson and described by the botanist Adrien Franchet.* The specific name honors Louis Edouard Bureau (1830-1918), a French botanist and professor of taxonomic botany in Paris.
Adrien Franchet

*There are a lot of botanic names and descriptions given by Franchet (1834-1900). He was based at the Paris Museum of Natural History where he described the flora of China and Japan based on collections made by French Catholic missionaries such as Armand David, Pierre Delavay, Paul Farges, Jean-Andre Soulie and others. The Flora Wonder Arboretum contains plant samples from all of these missionaries.

Rhododendron faithiae

Rhododendron faithiae

I first became enamoured with R. faithiae for its foliage, and not at all for its flower. New growth on many rhododendron species is actually more fantastic and colorful than the blossoms, and the Rhododendron Species Botanic Garden is an excellent place to study their mature specimens. Their description claims that it is a “very rare species (known from only two or three locations in the wild).” They claim that it exhibits large, fragrant white flowers in mid-summer, but my plant hasn't bloomed yet. RSBG Director Steve Hootman writes, “One of the most exciting finds that Peter Cox and I have ever had together.” Furthermore, Cox says that it is the hardiest scented species. R. faithiae (da yun jin du juan in Chinese) was first described by Woon Young Chun in 1934, but I'm not certain who the “Faith” woman is who is honored with the name. All I could come up with is Faith Fyles (1875-1961), a Canadian botanist and plant illustrator, but I don't know if she had any connection with Chinese Chun.

Rhododendron morii

Rhododendron morii

Rhododendron morii

R. Hatch is my source for R. morii and hopefully my specimen is true to name. It is a Taiwan native first described by Hayata in 1913, and in cultivation since 1918. It was introduced by E.H. Wilson in 1917 when he was working for the Arnold Arboretum, and despite coming from Taiwan it has proven absolutely hardy for me. The flower blooms pure white with red spots inside, but when it first develops it is positively pink. I'm sure there is some variation in the species – and maybe a lot – but that's what I mean when I wonder if my plant is correctly named. Ideally the Flora Wonder Blog should be a relationship where you contribute something, so I invite a rhododendron know-it-all to weigh in.

Rhododendron exasperatum

Rhododendron exasperatum

Rhododendron exasperatum

The specific name for R. exasperatum might lead you to assume that there was confusion about where to place it botanically, but in fact it was named by Harry Tagg in 1930 for its rough-ribbed leaves. Exasperate is from the Latin verb exasperare which is based on asper for “rough.” It is a unique species that I can usually identify in a garden even from a distance. My only gripe is that it is barely hardy in Oregon, so I dug my one plant after a brutal winter and now keep it indoors in a pot. Flowers are deep red and attractive, but I especially admire the purplish new growth, then later leaves become dark green on hairy stems.

Rhododendron forrestii var. repens

George Forrest
We decided to propagate and offer liners of R. forrestii var. repens. This variety is more low-growing than the normal forrestii species, and most of the time it is designated as the Repens Group due to some variation. The creeper's habit is terrestrial but it can find purchase on mossy rocks and it thrives with PM shade. The flowers are bell-shaped and deep red in color, and they are all the more spectacular because they are relatively large compared to the tiny green leaves. Forrest's rhododendron is native to northwest Yunnan, southeastern Tibet and also upper Burma (Myanmar) between 10,000-14,000' elevation. Forrest discovered the species in the summer of 1905 in Yunnan, but a few weeks later he barely escaped with his life from a band of murderous lamas bent on killing all Westerners. Running barefoot through the forests all of his material was lost except for one small piece which was sent earlier to Britain and described by botanist Diels. Forrest was back in the same area again in 1914 and 1918, but the undersides of the leaves were of a different color than the original type sample. Later Frank Kingdon Ward discovered clones that were named 'Scarlet Runner', 'Scarlet Pimpernel' and 'Carmelita'. We also grow a related species, R. chamaethomsoni, in our shaded former-basketball court.

Rhododendron makinoi

Rhododendron makinoi

Tomitaro Makino
I collected R. makinoi quite a few years ago and I was initially attracted by the long narrow leaves; and regular Flora Wonder Blog readers know that I am a fan of the skinny. I had it in the garden for at least ten years before I discovered that makinoi is a Japanese name and that it was indeed native to Japan (central Honshu). Flower color can range from pink to off-white, and thankfully I have a strong pink form from the Hatch garden. The specific name honors Tomitaro Makinoi (1862-1957), a Japanese botanist noted for his taxonomic work. He has been called the Father of Japanese Botany, and in addition he did overtime work in the bedroom and fathered 13 children. Makinoi named over 2,500 plants including 1,000 new species and 1,500 new varieties, and his birthday (April 21) is celebrated in Japan as Botany Day. I would love to visit the Makinoi Botanic Garden located in his hometown of Sakawa in Kochi Prefecture on Shikoku Island.

Frank Kingdon Ward

So that's less than 20% of the interesting rhododendron species in the Flora Wonder Arboretum. A lot of my factoids for this blog come thanks to the internet, and again I wouldn't consider myself an expert on the genus. I'll close with what the great plant explorer and writer, Frank Kingdon Ward, wrote: “The genus Rhododendron carries the universal hallmark of excellence.”