Some Comments on Varietal Naming and
Description in Rhododendrons and Azaleas
Henry T. Skinner
Director U.S. National Arboretum, Washington, D.C.
A new edition of The Azalea Book by F. P. Lee, sponsored by the American Horticultural Society, will appear this summer. Azalea fanciers may be interested to know that on advice from Mr. Lee, the index will include 900 varietal names new to the 1958 edition. About 200 of these may be modifications or corrections of earlier listed varieties but the remaining 700 represent names of all new or newly introduced azaleas, culled from the Registration listing, the Plant Patent files, from nursery catalogs, correspondence, etc. Actually, only 180 of these 700 were registered with Dr. Fletcher which implies that the registration system is still relatively unknown, or tends to be ignored. Many patented varieties have not been registered and many of these unregistered names again duplicate names currently in use for up to as many as five other varieties of rhododendrons and azaleas. It seems that the problem of names and name duplication has not yet been entirely solved.
How many of these 700 azaleas are markedly superior to the several thousand we already have is a question which only time may or may not reveal since distribution relies upon accident and advertising almost as much as upon merit. My second comment concerns the continuing joint problems of description and varietal identification.
Since reasonably positive identification of rhododendron clones is impossible without printed descriptions and since we have practically no descriptions at all, even on the Registration list, that amount to anything in a technical or serviceable sense, no one can identify any clone that he has by use of any of the available literature on azaleas and rhododendrons - by the same sort of means that species and botanical varieties can usually be verified.
This question is raised merely to emphasize the pressing need for thought and study on the improvement of techniques for providing accurate or more usable descriptions of rhododendron varieties. Too often we currently have nothing more than a statement of flower color which is in itself so vague that it is practically meaningless.
Flower color is susceptible of being more accurately recorded, as are morphological characters, flower measurements, appraisals of habit and so on. The Nickerson-Munsell color notations may provide a key to the problem of color description. The Royal Horticultural Society is also at work on a new series of color fans for issue before the 1966 International Horticultural Congress in Maryland. It is hoped that a discussion at this Congress will be devoted to the broad area and importance of horticultural color standards. Mr. Reid Denis has discussed a method for the machine processing of data of this sort in an earlier issue of the Society Bulletin, but the success of the process will remain solely dependent upon value and accuracy of the data used.
We have no present solutions to some of these problems. I mention them only because I firmly believe that they deserve thinking about.