Unusual Form of R. Maximum
Robert L. Schwind, Atlanta, Georgia
(see cover photo)
For the past few years my good friend, Chris Early, has been urging me to comb the Southern Appalachian mountains in quest of a superior form of R. maximum. R. maximum, as the reader may know, is a common under story shrub at lower elevations in the Southern Appalachians, possessing beautiful foliage, but bearing in mid summer small trusses of white or pink florets which, by any standards, are hardly extraordinary. My friend's request was prompted, I think, by the hope that the great variation within many rhododendron species might possibly have given rise to a superior form of R. maximum somewhere, if one kept looking. On his advice I was prepared this year to ascend Cade's Cove in Tennessee but, at the suggestion of Dr. Herbert Hechenbleikner, I abandoned the mission on his information that the flowers are ordinary and the chiggers tremendous.
During the second week of July 1971, with scarcely a thought of rhododendrons in general or R. maximum in particular, I went on a camping trip with my family in the north Georgia mountains. Shrubs of R. maximum abounded at the camp site, holding up their little white balls of mediocrity in a vain effort to solicit attention. One morning after sunrise, a shrub across the way from the camp site attracted my attention with its pinkishness and on closer inspection I realized that here was a form bearing large rounded trusses fully six inches across and containing on the average 20 flowers per truss. The buds were tipped dark pink, whereas the florets, 1½ to 2 inches across, were white in the throat, light pink in the petals, and bright pink on the margins of the petals. In all other respects, this shrub was typical of the species both as to habitat and shrub size and form, and where exposed to the sun, florescence was heavy.
In an effort to test and study this form, several cuttings were taken, treated, and set out in a cold frame where they are callousing normally. Trusses were carried back to Atlanta, shown around, photographed, and from which pollen was taken, desiccated, and frozen for use next spring in hybridizing. In the fall, more cuttings will be taken for distribution and ground layers effected. If this form should lend itself easily to propagation, and should its vegetative offspring bear the superior flowers of their parent, then perhaps I may conclude that I have found, at last, Early's El Dorado.