Leonard Franklin Frisbee, 1892-1970
William E. Avery, M.D., Tacoma, Wash.
Leonard, as he was affectionately known by those who knew him well and admired him, was born in the small town of Lathrop, Missouri, April 13, 1892. He attended Baylor University and finished there in 1924
He made his home with Dr. Charles Berry - a long standing rhododendron enthusiast - at Lemons Beach, in Tacoma, Washington, where he resided until his final 8 weeks in the hospital.
Some 25 years ago he became interested in rhododendrons, but particularly he was fascinated with R. occidentale. He made many trips to the occidentale country in southern Oregon and northern California, collecting herbarium specimens, tagging certain plants during their blooming season and naming numerous plants. 'Rogue River Belle', 'Peppermint Stick', and occidentale #158, which was perhaps the most distinctive of all, were plants collected by Leonard.
Through nine different flowering seasons he followed R. occidentale. Over 100 varieties were numbered. After long hours of study to determine location and determine the best in quality and color, he began a program of propagation and distribution of these fine plants. They were scattered "around the world", to New Zealand, to Australia, to England, as well as to gardeners along the Pacific Coast.
His early training in Botany was under Dr. E. J. Kraus, formerly Professor of Botany at Chicago University, and later an instructor at Oregon State University. Through him, Leonard was to learn botany by week end training. These two men shared a mutual interest in the occidentale azalea.
Mr. Frisbee also spent many months doing research on this azalea at the University of California. at Berkeley.
It would be amiss not to mention the fact that the recent interest by Britt Smith of Kent, Washington, and Dr. Frank Mossman of Vancouver, Washington was the outgrowth of the original pioneering of Leonard Frisbee. Both Dr. Mossman and Britt Smith sought guidance originally from Leonard in what later proved to be a tremendous development in the field of the occidentale azalea.
Also, early in his botanical career, he grew and exchanged plants with Chauncey Beadle, at the Biltmore Estates in Asheville, North Carolina. The azalea, R. bakeri, bearing the name 'Chauncey Beadle', is a most charming plant.
But this was only the beginning of the work of this great teacher and friend. He began what was originally known as The Tacoma Rhododendron Society in 1949. It later was known as The Washington Rhododendron Society, and finally as The Pacific Rhododendron Society, encompassing as it does, California and Oregon, as well as Washington. The first bulletin was issued in January of 1951. The journal Rhododendron was begun in 1952 and has continued as a quarterly journal until his death May 28th, 1970. This journal found its way into many places in this country as well as England, Russia, New Zealand, and Australia. Only recently the Arnold Arboretum had written to the Pacific Rhododendron Society asking if it would be possible to get two old issues that were missing from their library.
This remarkably energetic and generous man devoted the later years of his life trying to spread the knowledge of rhododendrons to his "pupils". Each year from Lemons Beach, hundreds of cuttings of the best rhododendrons and azaleas were distributed free to the membership. Seed of many species rhododendrons including those from Exbury, Edinburgh, Kew, and Brodick Castle, were distributed to the many members in Washington, Oregon and California.
He was always particularly interested in species rhododendrons and in his later years imported the better forms from England. He was extremely discriminating and didn't want just any old plant because it was a collector's item, but wanted only the best, the award forms or the rare and unusual ones. I can remember well how excited he would become when a shipment from England was in and was to be picked up at the Quarantine Station at the Federal Building in Seattle. Not always would the shipment be viable, but if it could be salvaged. Leonard would find a way.
Leonard also, through a period of research was able to get the British to change the name of R. californicum to R. macrophyllum, the name originally given to it by the Scottish botanist Menzies.
He was also the one who discovered and named the yellow form of R. carolinianum, Rehder, f. luteum Frisbee. Alfred Rehder of Harvard had named R. carolinianum years before.
Mr. Frisbee had been the author of articles in the Rhododendron and Camellia Year Book of The Royal Horticultural Society. The first of these appeared in November 7, 1953. Subsequent articles were published in 1955, 56, 58, 60, 61, 1962 and 1965 volumes.
His work was well known here as well as abroad. Personal communications with Peter Barber, Lord Aberconway, and others was commonplace. But perhaps the most significant part that Leonard played was the original teaching of many of us how to propagate the genus, how to obtain seed show to grow them and how to grow cuttings. It was from the early teaching of this man that many of us got our first taste of Rhodomania.
Perhaps, because of his great love for the genus Rhododendron, it ultimately led to his demise. It was shortly after making a trip into the occidentale country to show another the great potentialities of this species that he spent much more time and energy than his frail and worn body could tolerate. Not long after returning to his home in Tacoma, he developed double pneumonia and this was the beginning of the end for this venerable and scholarly gentleman.
Not once during those final days did he give up. He was always planning right to the end for the final shipment of plant material from England. Indeed there are now many fine species of rhododendrons at the University of British Columbia that have been grown on by Miss Jacks for The Pacific Rhododendron Society. These include scions of species from Kew, Exbury, The Royal Botanic Gardens at Edinburgh, Wisley Gardens, and from Captain Collingwood Ingraham of Kent, England, and others.
With the passing of Leonard Frisbee there is a large void that will be impossible to fill. We have lost a true friend, teacher, and scholar, and a tremendous benefactor to so many of us that had the good fortune to know and work with this great man. God rest his soul.