By P. H. Brydon
Photo by P. H. Brydon
Rhododendron grande native to Sikkim and Bhutan at the eastern end of the Himalayas where it is known to attain a height of 30 feet and where it become, the dominant species in forests at altitudes of from 8000 to 10,000 feet. Under cultivation in Great Britain there are specimens, upwards of 40 years old, which have assumed tree like proportions, in some instances reaching as high as 25 feet with a corresponding spread in width. While R. grande does not bloom until it is about 12 years old, once it attains some size, it blooms so profusely that the plants are weakened and as a consequence have been known to succumb from their prolificness. As far as the writer is aware, the largest specimen in the United States is growing at the University of California Botanical Garden in Berkeley, where it is now a plant measuring some 12 feet in height and about 8 feet through. The accompanying illustration shows a plant which was grown from seed received from the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh in 1932 under the name of R. argenteum, now considered a synonym of R. grande. The seed was sown at the University of California Botanical Garden and the seedlings planted out under lath in the spring of 1933. They made rapid growth and in the spring of 1940, eight years from time of sowing, practically every shoot produced a flower bud. The plant in this illustration was in this group of seedlings and was 6 feet tall and 4 feet through. Because of its rarity and unusual beauty, it was boxed and displayed in the Hall of Flowers at the San Francisco World's Fair where it caused considerable comment. The handsome dark green leaves were from 9 to 11 inches long and from 3 to 5 inches wide, The large rounded trusses contained from 20 to 25 blossoms which individually measured from 2 to 3 inches long and from 2½ to 3 inches wide. In bud they were pale rose but opened a creamy white with a dark purple blotch at the base of the corolla.
This species is certainly worthy of the four stars accorded by the Rhododendron Association although they maintain that "it requires shelter in the most favored gardens." In the Rhododendron Year Book it is rated in the E category as far as hardiness is concerned. In all probability, this is due to the fact that it blooms in early spring when there is a possibility that the flowers and possibly the new growth is damaged by frost. It grows well around the San Francisco Bay Region where the winters are relatively mild. However, it ought to prove amenable to our more northern climate provided it is afforded protection from strong winds and sunshine. It is essentially a woodland plant and requires an abundance of moisture, particularly during the summer months when it would he competing with the surrounding shade trees for moisture. Out of flower it is a handsome foliage plant and in the spring the new growths with their silky covering and pinkish bracts are a joy to behold. This is a species for the larger garden where it can be given enough room to develop properly. and sufficient high shade from coniferous trees to ward off the summer sun and prevailing winds which can be so destructive to the large leaves.