R. metternichii f. variegatum
Hideo Suzuki, Kumagaya, Japan
R. metternichii variegated
Photo by Hideo Suzuki
Since ancient times, we Japanese plant hobbyists have enthusiastically sought after variegated plants of any kind. Seldom did old literature on plants fail to mention variegated forms in detail. Not mentioning maples (Acer), many other plants, including azaleas, fall into this category.
R. metternichii f. variegatum shown in my picture is a five-year-old seedling grown from a rooted cutting and is 15 inches high. Although there occur various patterns of variegation on the leaves of rhododendrons, this type of variegation is most favored under the name of "Naka Fu" or center variegation and is a gem to us.
Here, let me mention a story of another center variegated plant, a R. degronianum, which was found in the wild in Yamagata Prefecture. In the first part of May every year, a famous ornamental plant fair takes place in Yamagata City, Yamagata Prefecture. Many nurserymen and some amateurs come, not only from the prefecture but also from other parts of the country, to display their plants along the street to sell.
Until three years ago, one of the few that intrigued us at the fair was a center variegated R. degronianum. It was a pot plant some three feet high. A friend of mine was so fascinated by the plant that he politely asked the owner if he would sell it, and if so how much would it cost. After a pause, believe it or not, the owner replied that it was twenty million yen which was the equivalent of about $67,000 in American money.
My friend was so surprised and disappointed at the price that he sighed, saying, "With that amount of money you can buy all the rhododendrons of the world." Later he confessed to me that if the price had been somewhere around 600,000 yen, which would have been about $2000 in American money, he would have purchased the plant immediately without any hesitation.
The following year he missed it at the fair and was told that it had passed away. It was certainly a great regret and loss, not only for the owner but for all the rhododendron fanciers in Japan that he did not have the opportunity to propagate this precious plant.
In conclusion, let me tell this to the readers. Please do not try to bring a R. 'President Roosevelt' to Japan expecting that you will be able to get $67,000 for it. The variegation pattern of 'President Roosevelt' appears almost like that of the R. degronianum I mentioned, but the variegated R. degronianum is the rarest of the rare. In addition, the leaf is thicker in texture, has heavy wooly indumentum underneath and the shiny green surface never fades even if it is exposed to full sun. And with such magnificent foliage you are able to enjoy the plant all year round. 'President Roosevelt' is a fine hybrid and popular in Japan, but for the reasons mentioned above and due to the supply and demand theory, young plants of it cost only a few dollars.