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Journal American Rhododendron Society

Current Editor:
Dr. Glen Jamieson ars.editor@gmail.com


Volume 20, Number 1
January 1966

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Two Tourists in Japan
Frank Doleshy, Seattle, Wash.

PART I: RHODODENDRONS MAKINOI, METTERNICHII AND KEISKEI

        The desire to go back to Japan dated from the end of my occupation duty, almost 20 years earlier. Now, on September 27, 1965, Mrs. Doleshy and I spotted Tokyo Tower from our jet and brushed off the remaining crumbs of three meals. Our Seattle travel agent, George Kawaguchi, had been surprised when we asked for stops in the back-country rhododendron areas, and he had suggested that "they would get the student from the next village to come and interpret." But Yakushima baffled him; no other client had ever wanted to go to that place, and he decided to call us a scientific expedition.
        We were far from that, and merely wanted to alleviate our ignorance of the wonderful Japanese rhododendrons. Also, if seed was ripe and picking permissible, we hoped to get some. The reader will have to judge for himself whether we learned anything, but we did get the seeds. Everyone assured us that we were free to pick small quantities. However, they did warn of a "sterile year," and this was correct; we often had to look at 15 or 20 plants before finding one with any seed.
        Before telling about the trip, it seems necessary to take the suspense out of the story by listing our seed collections. Most are available, now or soon, from the American Rhododendron Society Seed Exchange, and this information may make them more interesting to grow. We' are staying with the metric system because we feel that any serious rhododendron grower should know that 100 centimeters equals 1 meter, 1 meter is 3.28 feet, and 1 kilometer is 0.62 mile.

Seed Collection Numbers
        Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 are all R. makinoi from Mt. Horai or nearby, Aichi Prefecture, Honshu, collected Oct. 3, 1965. Further information is given in the latter part of this article. Nos. 1, 3 and 4 are being distributed by the Seed Exchange.
        Nos. 5, 6 and 7, also discussed below, are R. metternichii and R. keiskei from Iwaya Hill, north of Kyoto, Honshu, Oct. 9, 1965. Both species are available through the Seed Exchange.
        No. 8 R. kiusianum, in habitat, Ebino, Kirishima Mountains, Kagoshima Prefecture, Kyushu, Oct. 16, 1965. This is the famous little Kirishima Azalea which grows by the acre on open pumice flats and, more sparingly, among small pines on surrounding hills. Ours came from ca. 1200-1250 meters elevation. The many hybrids of R. kiusianum are of debated merit, but we think that the real thing may be a surprise and well worth growing. Leaves are only a few millimeters long and bronze in the fall; plants are densely bushy to a height of about 70 centimeters (frequently about knee height).
        No. 9 R. yakushimanum, in habitat, wooded ridge of Kuromi-dake, Yakushima, 1600-1720 m., Oct. 19, 1965.
        No. 10 R. yakushimanum, in habitat, open upper ridges to summit of Kuromi-dake, 1720-1836 m., Oct. 19, 1965.
        No. 9 is a much smaller collection than No. 10. However, to as many growers as possible, a small quantity of No. 9 will be sent with No. 10. We particularly hope that you will grow them side-by-side under identical conditions, but will keep them unmixed and separately labeled. The plants from low and high altitudes can then be compared to see if there are any inherited differences which carry over into cultivation. (Our Yakushima observations will be given in a later article.)
        No. 11 Unidentified Azalea growing around our inn at Anbo City, Yakushirna. Insufficient for distribution.
        No. 12 R. degronianum, in habitat, lower slopes of Mt. Shirane, above Kusatsu, Gumma Prefecture, Honshu, 1450 m., Oct. 23, 1965. Growing in Rhododendron thickets or individually among rocks, almost always interspersed with No. 13. Little or no shade from trees. Amazingly similar to R. yakushimanum, seen 4 days previously, 1000 kilometers away.
        No. 13 This plant was easily identified, but the proper choice of name is not entirely clear to us at present. The alternatives are R. fauriei var. rufescens, R. fauriei var. roseum, or R. brachycarpum. (Name problem will be explained in a later article.) Found in habitat with No. 12. Could not identify any natural hybrids; the later flowering of R. degronianum is probably an effective barrier to marriage.
        No. 14 R. japonicum, apparently in a natural habitat, among reforested larch, ca. 1240 m., on plateau above Kusatsu, Gumma Prefecture, Honshu, Oct. 24, 1965. A large and stately deciduous Azalea with open branches; practically the opposite of R. kiusianum.
        No. 15 Probably identical with No. 13 but obtained Oct. 24, 1965 at 1700 m., same area.

Some Questions to be Answered
        Returning now to our Tokyo arrival, we hoped to find answers to several questions. Is it really accurate to relabel a plant from R. metternichii to R. degronianum if it has 5-lobed flowers? And is the number of lobes a very good identifying feature in the first place? Where does the little-known R. fauriei fit in? Above all, why shouldn't R. yakushimanum have some close relatives in the Kirishima Mountains or the Mt. Aso complex, both on Kyushu and both over 1500 m. high?
        After an initial 5 days in Tokyo and Hakone to get acquainted with things Japanese, we left Odawara on the luxurious Kodama version of the bullet train, changed at Toyohashi to a wood-floored coach of the Iida Line, ran across the tracks at Honnagashino to catch an electric interurban car, and lifted off our suitcases one last time at Horaiji Village. There, a taxi took us to the lovely Unryuso Inn, which had never before had a foreign guest. The pilgrim path at the front gate led up the holy mountain, Horaisan. And, according to the solemn assurances of Kawaguchi Travel Service and the Japan Travel Bureau, we should find R. makinoi on the back of the mountain.
        We drank our welcoming tea, basked in the breeze, and finally began to wonder if the management had read a book saying that foreigners required Complete Privacy. (Little did we know what was going on!) Anyway, when we saw a young man come into the courtyard with two girls, we hoped they would turn out to be the high school English teacher and his star students. This was correct, and we were as happy as they at the chance to talk. We identified ourselves as the foreign guests who had been expected, learned to say Shakunage instead of Rhododendron, and explained that we were there because of the Shakunage. So, as soon as the inn could spare a maid, she was sent out to get a branch of Shakunage - sort of a poor specimen, but we couldn't take our eyes from it.
        At five o'clock the inn manager phoned to say that it was time for visitors to leave and for us to bathe, and everyone complied. Emerging clean and very warm, we encountered Mike Young (Mitsuya Wakai). Mike was the former English teacher at Horaiji, victorious survivor of 40 nights of sleep on Greyhound buses while touring 48 American states, and now taught at "the Eton of Japan," near Nagoya. Summoned back to Horaiji to help with the foreign invasion, he had journeyed long and tediously. But he was admitting nothing other than a casual desire to talk with Americans once in a while - and would not then or later consent to our paying a yen of his expenses.
        The next morning we went out to the front gate, turned uphill, and faced the 800-year-old stone steps. Here we stopped: "Mike, can we do this? Won't the Buddhist priests resent us? How do we know they want us tramping through the woods on the back of their mountain?" Mike smiled at the idea of exclusive theology and hardly paused, so we joined the hundreds of pilgrims.

Our First R. makinoi
        First stop was a temple at about 360 meters elevation. Entering the gate, we immediately saw R. makinoi (Yenshyu Shakunage) in the garden. Growing in much sun, the leaves were short and bleached, but could hardly be confused with those of any other Rhododendron.
        A friendly priest served us chilled tea and brought cushions so that we could be comfortable on the temple steps with our shoes on. The Shakunage, he explained, was used medicinally by the older people. They boiled the leaves to obtain a syrup taken internally, for ailments unspecified. We asked about toxic effects, but the question remained unresolved. This medicine was certainly used, but we had never actually eaten a leaf to see what happened.
        Not sure of success in the forest over the ridge, we looked for capsules on these garden plants, found them, and asked for permission to pick. This created no problem other than one of hospitality, and a tall priest was immediately called to pick every capsule for us - as our No. 1. We saw no other species except Azaleas on the entire mountain and therefore believe that the seed is free from outside influence. It was not entirely ripe at this low elevation, but we dried it with care and hope for some germination.
        Climbing on up the thousand steps, we reached "half-way point." From here we could branch in any of several directions, and Mike consulted with a husky, jovial priest - apparently the supervisor of a lumber yard which produced works of art: magnificently-grained panels for the temple and its pilgrim inn. Along one cliff-hanging path he showed us two excellent but seedless specimens of R. makinoi. Then, for further discussion, we returned to a room perched on a tall rock crag - the workroom of a Japanese poet. Here we had our tea, looking out over green pines, blue pines, and maples in every shade of early-fall color change. The priest then led us up his "secret path," past the only Shinto shrine on the mountain, and we departed from civilization. Continuing to the ridge, we turned south, peering hopefully down the east side.

Mike Young on a spur of Mt. Horai
    Fig. 1.  Mike Young on a spur of Mt. Horai, Oct. 3, 1965.
                R. makinoi
occurs on forested slopes nearby. 
                Frank Doleshy photo

In Dense Shade
        Finding nothing in the first half kilometer (that is, nothing but Cryptomeria, Yew, Hemlock, Holly, Camellia, Pieris, Vaccinium, Iris, etc.) we ate lunch on a rock shoulder where the ridge started to slant down, and then doubled back to the north. Mrs. Doleshy spotted our first R. makinoi at an elevation probably between 500 and 550 meters, one plant barely east of the ridge top, about 2½ meters tall, competing with other shrubs in dense shade. The small quantity of seed became our No. 2. This is probably the same as No. 3 (our major collection) but is sentimentally given separate identity as our first Japanese Rhododendron seen in natural habitat.
        Continuing to the north, the trail traversed the steep east side of the mountain rather than following the ridge top, and led through the shade of trees averaging about 15 meters tall. At an elevation of approximately 550 meters we suddenly saw dozens of R. makinoi on the slope below, growing among waist-high ferns or curving up from cracks in overhanging rock. I grabbed the bag for No. 3 and was well under way when a group of hikers came along the path and stopped to encourage our project with loud cheers. They used a great deal of film, and I hope their photography was more successful than mine in this shaded tangle of trunks and stems.
        Since R. makinoi grows naturally in this situation, with a damp summer climate, it is not surprising that the cultivated plants thrive in nearly complete shade. Also, there is probably a delayed snow melt, and this may account for the late flowering and growth of the species. (Japanese Rhododendrons seen elsewhere were usually in the open.) We cannot, however, explain why the capsules up here at 550 m. were ripe while those below were still green. The plant itself is leggy in this kind of location, with trunks and branches zig-zagging to a maximum height of 2½-3 m.
        Back on the trail, we found that our eyes were now zeroed in on the plant we sought. (We always had difficulty seeing the first plant. But, after it revealed itself, others would come out of hiding all around.) This stand of R. makinoi continued on up the slope and undoubtedly covered more than one acre. Some individual plants near the top of the ridge received more sun - but not a great deal more - and were attractive, bushy specimens about 1 m. tall.
        Continuing out toward a viewpoint, we curved into a more southerly exposure and quickly ran out of Rhododendrons. Actually, this may have resulted from a soil difference rather than the exposure; Mt. Horai consists of near-vertical strata of several kinds of rock. But verification will have to await another visit. We didn't like to leave without further exploration, at least to observe altitude limits. However, we were even more reluctant to part with Mike, who had to take a late afternoon train back to Nagoya. So we went down to the Unryuso Inn, where the staff joined us in celebrating a successful trip.

Mr. Horai from Haraiji Village
     Fig. 2. Haraiji Village.R. makinoi is found
                on the far side of this mountain.
                Frank Doleshy photo

Street-side Plantings
        After Mike's departure we decided to look for the Shakunage between the railroad station and the high school the source of the branch brought to our room. These turned out to be the street-side ornamental planting of the village, expertly placed on a steep slope above a wall. They appeared to have been moved quite recently, and some had very good foliage. The seed was green but plentiful, so we decided to take a chance on careful drying and picked a bagful as our No. 4. This seed should be pure R. makinoi, because other evergreen Rhododendrons were as absent from the village as from the mountain.
        Regarding the seed bags, we used nothing exotic or expensive. Most of them came free, around loaves of bread or laundered shirts. But we were always careful to get the capsules out of the plastic and into paper the same day, to avoid the fungus attack which is encouraged by condensed moisture

Leaf Characters
        Looking at our rather scanty leaf specimens, they measure as follows:

  Blade
Length
Blade
Width
Petiole
Length
 
No. 1 7.5 cm. 1.6 cm. 1.4 cm. Margin revolute; slight end-to-end curvature.
No. 1 7.4 1.5 1.3 Same
No. 2 10.5 1.5 1.2 Same
No. 3 18.7 1.8 broken Same, and blade much narrowed at base.
No. 3 11.5 under 1.0 broken Margin extremely revolute; tip bent down sharply, starting 3 cm. from apex.
No. 3 10.5 1.4 broken Margin revolute; distinct end-to-end curvature.
No. 4 10.4 1.8 1.8 Margin revolute; leaf very convex in cross-section; sharply curved from end to end.
These are generally within the ranges given in The Species of Rhododendron, as follows:  
  7.17 1.0-2.5 1.5-2.0

        Other identifying features of these leaves agree well with the description, except that several leaf bases are so narrow that they barely fit the term "cuneate." Indumentum is very thick on all leaves.
        The capsules of this species are interesting to us because they contain a variable number of lobes (seed compartments). We also found this to be true of R. degronianum on Mt. Shirane, 200 kilometers northeast of Mt. Horai, and R. yakushimanum on Yakushima, 840 kilometers southwest. These three Rhododendrons seem to be closely related, and the variable lobe count can be discussed more intelligibly in a subsequent article dealing with these other species.
        Leaving Horaiji October 4th, we traveled via hydrofoil, train and bus to the Ise Grand Shrines and around the Kii Peninsula eventually backing into Kyoto station on a rather slow train the evening of October 8th. We had no thought other than to find a taxi, but our suitcases were taken before we stepped onto the station platform. "I am Dr. Watanabe," the gentleman announced. "I am a member of Dr. Rokujo's staff, and he cannot come tonight. He is sorry. I don't speak much English, but here is my daughter, and she does well enough."
        Dr. Rokujo, well-known to his Seattle correspondents, is a member of the American Rhododendron Society and director of the medical division of one of the big-five pharmaceutical firms in Japan. We had written to ask if he could join us for a dinner in Kyoto, but he had reversed the invitation by return mail.
        Via two taxis, Dr. Watanabe and his daughter soon had us at the beautiful Yachiyo Inn. Dr. Watanabe gave instructions to the maid, while his smiling teen-age daughter kept the English language conversation in high gear. Then, after late supper at the nearby Miyako Hotel, we agreed on a 9:00 A.M. start the next morning.

Dr. Rokujo in front of a thicket of <i>R. metternichii
     Fig. 3.  Dr. Rokujo in front of a thicket of R. metternichii
     on the top of Iwaya Hill, Oct. 9, 1965. Note the open,
     un-shaded habitat. Stony soil underfoot is very hard.
     Frank Doleshy photo

We See R. metternichii and R. keiskei
        Exactly on schedule, Dr. Rokujo and Dr. Watanabe appeared at our door, escorted by the inn staff, and took us to the waiting limousine. We still cannot quite believe our recollection of the next 14 hours. After a brief temple tour we drove to the foot of Iwaya Hill, climbed it to see R. metternichii and R. keiskei, returned to visit shrines, gardens, temples and viewpoints, dined at the fabulous Gion Suehiro, joined in songs at a Gion geisha house, and finally returned to the Yachiyo - to find that we no longer had the same room. Instead, we had been moved to a suite which would hold the members of any smaller chapter of the Rhododendron Society.
        The summit of the Iwaya Hill, several kilometers north of Kyoto, is about 600 meters above sea level. Iwa means "stone," and the stony summit is dominated by large plants of R. metternichii, the Tsukushi Shakunage. Dense, healthy shrubs growing to a height of 4 meters, they are almost entirely un-shaded. All of us hunted for the scarce capsules, which became our No. 5 collection. Most were ripe, and we were annoyed when much desired seed fell in our hair. (Also, at lunch, the Kyoto Hotel may have wondered what we kept finding in our hair.)
        We forgot to count the number of lobes per capsule until most had been split for 100% seed extraction, but the few still on hand were all 7-lobed. At least in this respect, we were dealing with a typical form of R. metternichii, the common, large Rhododendron found from the latitude of Tokyo south to middle Kyushu. Two leaf specimens measure as follows:

  Blade
Length
Blade
Width
Petiole
Length
No. 5 15.2 cm. 4.2 cm. 3.0 cm.
No. 5 14.7 4.5 2.0

        These leaves are broadest about ⅔ of the distance from base to apex; base is tapered to petiole; tip is bluntly acuminate; indumentum is a thin copper-buff layer.
        The measurements slightly exceed upper limits given in The Species of Rhododendron. However, a difference is not surprising, because R. metternichii seems such a rare plant in Europe. (Indeed, the Boskoop Experimental Station in Holland has expressed particular pleasure at receiving some of this seed.)
        On the same hilltop, in open spaces between plants of R. metternichii, we found R. keiskei, the Hikage Tsutsuzi, growing as a low, spreading, but vigorous sub-shrub to a height of about 33 centimeters. The few somewhat green capsules from these plants constitute our No. 6. Also, about 50 meters lower on the hill, there was lanky, upright-growing R. keiskei similar to the plants common in U.S. gardens, but these bore no seed.
        The only other seed obtained on Iwaya Hill was No. 7, from a plant of R. metternichii with more reddish indumentum. This will not be available through the Exchange because there were only about 20 seeds in the two stunted capsules.
        From Kyoto we headed south to Kyushu and beyond-land of the first Emperor, the great Satsuma lords, and 1000-year-old Cryptomeria trees-with results to be described in the next issue.


Volume 20, Number 1
January 1966

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