The American Rhododendron Society Species Project
Milton V. Walker, M.D.
A prominent species grower remarked recently that he was sure that over the years, he had discarded more plants than he now had in his garden. Why? Probably, because like many others, he found he had bought not a true species, but a poor hybrid. Species enthusiasts are not interested in just garden plants but collect species for the beauty of the plant and the exquisite quality of the better forms.
All collectors of species have experienced the difficulty of finding good forms, and of even knowing that what they buy is typical of the species. The reason for this we believe is twofold. First, there is no authoritative list published as to where one may locate typical, or very good forms of a particular species; and second, there is no unanimity of opinion as to what constitutes the typical, or what are exceptionally good forms.
In an attempt to do something about this problem, The American Rhododendron Society has set up a Species Project Committee. This committee has initiated a pilot study, which is now under way with the cooperation of chapters in Seattle, Tacoma, Portland and Eugene. At the suggestion of Dr. Clarke, the study is being limited for the time being, to the above four centers, and will be expanded as soon as some of the problems inherent in a new undertaking are solved.
The committee decided that the first step would be to locate where species are being grown, and by whom. The ten species they selected for the pilot study are R. souliei, R. wardii, R. calophytum, R. fargesii, R. haematodes, R. didymum, R. barbatum, R. strigillosum, R. augustinii, R. hippophaeoides. At the present time local chairmen are collecting data on the above listed species. Arthur Childers chairman of the Eugene Committee got his questionnaires out at the February meeting, followed closely by Merle Cisney at the Portland Chapter meeting. Ben Nelson of Seattle and Charles Edmunds of Tacoma are heading up the project in Washington, and report a good deal of enthusiasm for the attempt the A.R.S. is making to bring a little order out of the present confusion.
The ground work for this project, which is being done by the local committees, is of inestimable value. It is they who will search out each owner of a mature plant of the species under study, and they who will have the task of filling out a very complete report on the plant. This may involve more than one visit in order to get detailed measurements of leaves, anatomical description of flowers, and if possible photos of the flowers, leaves and plant.
This report is not in any way an evaluation of the plant, but simply a recording of factual information. Too much credit cannot be given to those who are serving, and will serve on the local Project Committees.
When the detailed reports on these species come in to the A.R.S. Committee, we will have the help of some of the older more experienced growers, who are being mobilized into Evaluation Teams. It will be the function of these teams to study and compare the reports on the plants in the various species, go out and examine as many as possible, and come up with recommendations as to which plants in their opinion, are truly representative of the species; which are varieties of the typical, and which are very good forms of the species. The Evaluation Teams have the final responsibility in this far reaching project.
When Dr. Clarke appointed the undersigned Species Project Committee, he stressed the organizational function of the committee. We were first asked to study the project and provide the President and Board of Directors with a suggested organizational plan, if the project seemed of value. After three months' study, the committee recommended that the project be undertaken, and a plan of organization was submitted. The Board of Directors approved the plan at the December meeting of the A.R.S., and so a pilot study, as outlined above, has been set up, and is now in progress.
The Species Project Committee would be glad to receive constructive suggestions from any interested members.
Milton V. Walker, M.D., Chairman
Frank D. Mossman, M.D., Secretary
Arthur K. Harris, M.D.