Two Outstanding Rhododendrons
Dr. Carl Phetteplace, Eugene, Oregon
Two plants which have long been of much satisfaction to the writer are R. sutchuenense and R. calophytum. Both are of the Fortunei series, sub-series Calophytum, are rated three star and both are quite hardy here. These plants came originally from the late James Barto's collection and were undoubtedly grown by him from seed. It is estimated that they are now near twenty-five years old.
The R. H. S. studbook refers to R. sutchuenense (from Szechuan) as "a handsome rhododendron that should be in every collection." It is said to reach a height of twenty feet in the wild. This plant is presently about seven feet high and the same in diameter. It seems very happy where it is situated in full shade with plenty of moisture in summer. It began to flower when about ten years old. The accompanying photo was taken in April, 1956, showing that the severe freeze of November, 1955, had done no harm even to its buds. Bowers reports that it is hardy in Cape Cod and in Philadelphia. The truss is rather fiat, consisting of approximately twenty closely arranged flowers which are near three inches long and up to three inches across. The color is a rose pink on opening and fades with age to a bale lilac white. There is a prominent dark maroon blotch in the throat. It is believed that the deeper pink color of these flowers qualifies this particular plant as var. geraldii.
Fig. 11. R. sutchuenense
R. calophytum (beautiful plant) is most appropriately named. In flower or not, it must be considered the most attractive plant in the garden. It is at least seven feet tall and eight or nine feet across. It is reported to reach a height of twenty feet in cultivation. It, too, is happy in full shade with abundant moisture in summer. At this age each terminal puts out about six inches of new growth which adds appreciably to the over-all plant size each year. It is an unfailing bloomer now, but probably does not flower before the age of eight or ten years. Some authorities have called it the finest of the "big leafed" rhododendrons. Although the leaves are often a foot or more in length and three or four inches in width, one does not ordinarily think of it with the other big leafed varieties. Cox refers to it as "without doubt one of the finest of all rhododendrons." It would seem to have great value as a parent. A distinguishing characteristic of R. calophytum lending to its beauty is the collar or rosette-like arrangement of its long tapering leaves on very heavy stems.
Fig. 12. R. calophytum
The truss. like that of R. sutchuenense, is rather flat and broad with twenty or thirty deep pink flowers closely arranged. Each flower has a striking red pedicle. There is a deep crimson blotch with spots in the throat. The stigma is a full centimeter in diameter posed as a flat disk on the end of the style.
Although neither R. sutchuenense nor R. calophytum have shown the slightest injury from winter cold, they both bloom at about the end of March or early April and consequently are often subject to some harsh weather. Both have flowers of unusual substance, so that ordinary rainy weather does no harm, but a series of frosty nights that occurs sometimes at this season will brown the bloom.
Nothing can bring more joy to the heart of the rhododendronist than a large specimen of either of these plants in flower when the weather is at all favorable. At the sight of either in its full array, one knows then for sure that the long winter is over and that from this point on, the season is here when each day for many weeks to come will be abundant with good things for the gardener and all of his friends.