The Australian Rhododendron Society Species Study Group
A. W. Headlam, Bentleigh, Australia
Having read with considerable interest the events leading up to the formation of the Species Foundation, and the eventual resignation of Mr. P. H. Brydon as Editor of the Bulletin to take over the responsibility of the project, a job, I am sure, with his background and knowledge of the genus rhododendron, will be carried out with his usual high degree of efficiency and enthusiasm, I thought some information on the formation of the Australian Rhododendron Society's Species Study Group would be of interest to readers.
Although the Society's National Rhododendron Garden is located at Olinda in the Dandenong Ranges, the majority of members reside in Melbourne, and it was found in the early days when monthly meetings were held at Olinda, many Melbourne members were reluctant, particularly in winter months, when swirling mists and fog often enveloped the mountain.
Then the boot was on the other foot, and members who lived in the hills were reluctant to leave their log fires to journey to Camberwell.
A compromise was made by having a number of field days, usually on Saturday afternoons, when Members could attend and see grafting demonstrations and rhododendrons being planted, and participate in the activities and discussions, however, this was not an entirely satisfactory solution to the problem, and it was decided to form a Species Study Group under the leadership of Dr. Leonard B. Cox, the aims being to secure the best available forms of species available, to make extensive plantings in the National Rhododendron Garden at Olinda, and to exchange species with other interested Societies, in fact, the aims generally are along the same lines as those of the Species Foundation.
We were indeed fortunate that the National Rhododendron Garden was already well established and contained extensive plants of species ranging from the large-leafed members of the family, right through the whole range to the dwarf growing specimens, which are being planted to advantage in the rock gardens.
The majority of species in the garden have been generously donated by Nurserymen and members of the Society, and there are group plantings of many rhododendrons in the Maddenii Series and Sub-series along the western perimeter of the garden.
A Register of species was compiled in November 1971, when it was found that the garden contained over 200 species and variants embracing the following series and sub-series: Albiflorum, Anthopogon, Arboreum Series & Sub-series, Auriculatum, Azalea Series & Sub-series, Barbatum Series & Sub-series, Boothii Series - Subseries, Campanulatum, Campylogynum, Carolinianum, Cinnabarinum, Dauricum, Edgeworthii, Falconeri, Ferrugineum, Fortunei Series & Subseries, Fulvum, Glaucophyllum Series & Sub-series, Grande, Griersonianum, Heliolepis, Irroratum Series & Subseries, Lacteum, Lapponicum, Lepidotum, Maddenii Series & Sub-series, Micranthum, Moupinense, Neriiflorum Series & Sub-series, Ponticum Series & Sub-series, Saluenense, Scabrifolium, Taliense Series & Sub-series, Thomsonii Series & Sub-series, Trichocladum, Triflorum Series & Sub-series, Uniflorum.
New species are being continually added, and it is the aim of the Group to build up a garden containing a comprehensive collection, whilst endeavoring to obtain the best forms available of the particular species.
An area of five acres above the lake has been set aside for the planting of the main species group, and members, by participating in the planting, and later weeding and generally looking after the area, can watch the progress of growth, the formation of flower buds and eventually see the flowers, thereby gaining knowledge of the habit and appearance of species through a complete growth and flowering cycle.
On the question of importing live plant material, the Law stipulates that plant material, including rhododendrons, imported from overseas countries, must be fumigated with Methyl Bromide and then held in an approved quarantine area for a specified period.
The Society has been granted permission, and has erected a glass house with a heated bench, and all ventilators are covered with fine mesh wire gauze - the whole is enclosed by a chain-mesh fence to prohibit entrance of unauthorized persons, and after fumigation, cuttings are propagated in the normal way, and other rooted material is held in the quarantine area under careful supervision until such time as it is ready to be transferred to a nursery bed to be hardened off prior to its final planting in the various sections of the garden.
An event which has been of considerable interest to rhododendron enthusiasts, and in particular to members of the Species Study Group, has been the flowering of R. giganteum after a wait of some 44 years! This rhododendron was imported from England (Gill's), in 1927 by Bert Chandler & Sons, Como Nursery at The Basin, Victoria, and planted on a gentle slope, sheltered by eucalypts and acacias, however, it made little progress, and was subsequently moved by the late Mr. Bert Chandler, to a site alongside a stream in a deep fern gully, where only filtered sunshine penetrates, and it is adequately protected from strong winds.
Last year seven flower buds were formed, and they were anxiously watched as the season progressed. In due course the flowers, each carrying up to 25 florets, deep rose-crimson in color opened, and were greatly admired by all who saw them.
It is interesting that the leaves have only over the last four or five years, developed a thin gray marginal indumentum. Unfortunately Mr. Bert Chandler, who died recently at the age of ninety years, did not see the flowers which he had for so many years looked forward to with great anticipation.
Members of the Study Group certainly hope that some of the species in the National Rhododendron Garden at Olinda, which have not yet flowered, do not emulate the example of R. giganteum and wait for forty-four years to show their first color.
It is anticipated that in the not too distant future, as species in the garden flower in increasing numbers, and as an assessment is made of their quality, the Australian Rhododendron Society and kindred Societies in other parts of the world will be able to exchange plant material to their mutual advantage.