The Satsuki Azaleas
Thomas Wheeldon, M.D., Richmond, Va.
Some might prefer to call this a preliminary report, but I choose to refer to it as an announcement. It is believed that few were aware of the research which the late B. Y. Morrison was carrying out on the Satsuki Azaleas. I was fortunate enough to be associated in this work with him. On the clay before he died, I received the information of the 264th, the last cultivar which he considered truly described, and out side of a small shipment due from Japan, which were believed to be duplicates of clones already in hand, it was felt that the project had been completed.
Although the Satsuki Azaleas are said to have been in cultivation for over three hundred years, and were introduced in Western Europe in the 1830s; although they have been glorified at the famous annual shows in Japan; although the Chugai Nursery Company of Kobe listed fifty two clones between 1936-37 and in 1940-41, ninety nine, and although in 1938-39 the Plant Introduction Station purchased fifty three clones and propagated and distributed these as late as 1948, Hume makes no mention of these that I can find in his book, AZALEAS. The AZALEA HANDBOOK published by The American Horticultural Society in 1952 devotes a small space-one page-to the Macrantha Azaleas, and includes what eventually became rightfully known as the Satsukis in the group. Frederic P. Lee, in the first edition of THE AZALEA BOOK (1958), fully recognized the group as such, and in the second edition (1965) he expanded on the subject. In the second edition, Lee still felt that there is much to be learned, and he apparently felt that much of the information would have to come from Japan.
My association with Mr. Morrison formally began July 24, 1959, but as late as June 19, 1963, Ben still realized the immensity of the task of clarifying the true description and naming of the Satsukis. I quote him-"Once more I kick myself . . . for not having plunged into the study - when I came back, or rather, immediately after the stretch in World War I." At the time of our association, Ben had a collection of Satsuki Azaleas, as I did. At that time he, also, felt that there were many discrepancies, and all we could do was to collect plant material and information; then, sift it out. Many road blocks were present. It was found that much of the material from Japan and elsewhere had been improperly named, many names were misspelled and many sports had been given names of established clones. As the Satsukis are prone to sport, it is readily seen what a task was presented. As the investigation progressed, and cultivars were identified and described to Ben's satisfaction, cuttings were sent to Richmond where they were propagated. Over five hundred selections were studied, and at the time of his death, Ben was satisfied that two hundred and sixty four clones were properly named, spelled and described.
Not all of the Satsuki Azaleas are saucer-size, although many are. Nor is this desirable, for the fantastic starry ones make marvelous Bonsai, and the in-between ones give an array of plant material, which is hard to equal. The complete collection is in my study garden, and will be described at a suitable time. It is hoped the result will be published and complete collections will be placed in locations where they can be adequately perpetuated.