Carl Phetteplace, M.D., Eugene, Oregon
I was much interested in the copy of your letter which was sent to the Rhododendron Species Committee about the rhododendron that we have been calling R. croceum and which, as you know, has raised questions in the minds of judges at different rhododendron shows as to its identity. You perhaps know that on one occasion as chairman of the judges I had it thrown out of the thomsonii series because it had seven lobes. This was at the rhododendron show in Eugene, Oregon, several years ago. Since that time, I have been in discussion with different people who possessed considerable knowledge about rhododendrons and there has been no one who was quite sure about it.
In going through the Royal Botanical Gardens in Scotland with Mr. Davidian last spring, we came to a large plant, probably ten feet or more in height and as wide, which was in prime flower, well loaded and which Mr. Davidian told me very positively was R. chlorops. I was sure that it was identical with the one you have always thought was R. croceum. I discussed this with him to some extent and he is very positive that this was R. chlorops which is in the fortunei series and which I admit I had never heard of before. Since that time, I have found it in one of the handbooks, but apparently it has not been described in all of the books we have on species. The day I was there was not a particularly good day for getting pictures and I am sorry to say I do not have a good picture of it. Although I took two or three none of them were satisfactory. I can assure you though it was exactly like the one we have grown here that came from your collection. Most of the flowers have seven lobes though occasionally some have six, none with five. All of them were flat shaped and about the same size as the flowers on the plant you sold me. All of them had the same identical blotch in the throat. The leaves, as near as I could tell, were quite similar. Possibly, if you had the two together, you might see some little difference in the flower but I am quite sure there would not be any greater variation than what you would find in any of the well established species.
I have been very anxious to communicate further with Mr. Davidian and also with Dr. Fletcher at the Royal Botanical' Gardens to see if it is possible to get cuttings from this particular plant and grow them here so that eventually we might be able to compare them side by side. So far as I know, no one else has anything like it in this country and this was the only plant of this kind that I saw all through England and Scotland in the gardens I visited.
I was there, of course, at the time this one was in flower, so it should have been noticed in other gardens if it were very common. Personally, I think it is a very fine thing. It does have many characteristics of a yellow R. thomsonii, especially so since the flower is so open and flat, which is more common in the thomsonii series than in the fortunei series.
If you are interested in following this information further, it may be helpful to get from Mr. Davidian or Dr. Fletcher at the Royal Botanical Gardens some further information as to the plant expedition from which this seed grew. I was not able to find an explorers number on the plant when I was there. I can assure you that the plant loaded with these beautiful flowers was an exceptionally fine sight. It is surely a rhododendron that ranks with the very best and Mr. Davidian assured me that it was a genuine species and not a hybrid.
I hope this information will be helpful to you. I have enjoyed the plant I got from you very much. Of course I am not sure our plants are R. chlorops. So you shouldn't change the name until we have more accurate information.