Hadley Osborn, El Cerrito, Calif.
FIG. 66. 'Noyo Chief'
C. Smith photo
'Noyo Chief' has regularly if sparingly been in the trade for years as R. kingianum or as R. zeylanicum. It was named in 1966 by Dr. Paul J. Bowman, who had purchased his plant from the late Lester Brandt in 1953. Dr. Bowman noted a number of substantial differences between this plant and another one he grew as R. zeylanicum which had come from the University of California Botanical Garden.
In all respects, the UCBG plant conforms to descriptions in Cowan's revision of the Arboreum Subseries (Notes, R. B. G. Edin, No. XCIII, July, 1936). The foliage of 'Noyo Chief', however, differs notably. The less bullate leaves are not markedly revolute or convex, but merely a little down-turned at the margin, and the indumentum is much less dense. Moreover, illustrations of R. zeylanicum in floras of Ceylon, plants raised from seed collected in the wild in Ceylon, and plants imported from Ceylon all look very like the UCBG plant and do not greatly resemble 'Noyo Chief'.
Of course, gardeners addicted to counting their plants and taking pride in the number of different "species" they grow will continue to consider 'Noyo Chief' to be R. zeylanicum regardless of all the evidence. And 'Noyo Chief' is a plant to be proud of. Its glowing, rose red flowers open in late April and early May and last unusually well. The superb, lustrous foliage is elegantly presented throughout the year and the branch structure is both sturdy and graceful. In coastal California, 'Noyo Chief' grows in carefree fashion in either sun or shade, needing protection only from strong winds. It blooms at a younger age than R. zeylanicum, and blooms abundantly. It will adapt its habit to its situation and appears to advantage wherever it is seen, being truly a plant for all seasons.
Strangely, it has not yet been used much in hybridizing. Like all other rhododendrons it has of course had yakushimanum's attentions forced upon it and has produced some of the more pleasing results. A few of these seedlings are going around as "zeylanicum" crosses so as further to confound posterity. Occasional random crosses have also been made and reveal that while the glossy foliage of 'Noyo Chief' is not automatically inherited, it does recur on a portion of seedlings. An enterprising breeder could well be rewarded with a whole new race of miraculously well-foliaged plants.