by Betty & Jim Caperci
Three cheers for a fabulous lady! She just possibly may have been the collector of a new species rhododendron. Time will tell.
In 1973, Mr. and Mrs. J. M. Sturtevant were trekking up Mt. Everest when they were stopped from going further by bad weather. While waiting for the weather to clear, Mrs. Strutevant decided to have a closer look at the different rhododendrons she had noticed scattered about the area. As they had seed on them, she thought it would be fun to collect some to take back home. With the help of a Sherpa guide, she gathered the seed, very wisely noting some of the details of each plant on the packages. Much of this seed was given to her daughter, of Seattle.
We were lucky enough to have been the recipients of quite a bit of this seed. As there was a fair quantity of most of it, we distributed it further to other rhododendron fanciers.
As of now, 1978, we have seedlings coming along which are proving to be most fascinating. We identified the seed as we planted them by numbers, Sturtevant Collection #001 to #011 (c. w. Mt. Everest, 13,000 ft.). Sturtevant #011 is a dwarf variety with a great similarity to R. baileyi, but with some differences. Warren Berg has had several of this number bloom for him. Ours are smaller and have not as yet bloomed. He seems to have a knack for getting plants to mature faster than we can do. His plants are 12 to 15 inches high and quite bushy. They have an almost two-toned purple flower, which is flat and about a half-inch across. The leaves are bright deep green, 1 to 2 inches long and ¼ to 7/16 inches wide, very slightly paler on the under-side, oblanceolate and quite glandular. Mid-rib is prominent and the petaloid grooved. A beautiful little plant.
The most dwarf of our plants (Strutevant #010) vary from 3 to 6 inches tall at this time, and are bushing out nicely since they were moved outside from the cold-house a year ago last spring. The leaves are ⅜ in. long and 3/16 in. wide - almost microscopic - and the under-side is quite scaly, including the mid-rib. Several have bloomed for us with a darling little flat yellow flower. Both plant and flower are reminiscent of R. lepidotum var. elaeaganoides, yellow except that lepidotum is deciduous, and the Sturtevant number is evergreen.
The first nine numbered varieties (#001 to #009) are rather similar so far. One variety is definitely in the Arboretum Series, having fawn indumentum very much like some of the R. arboreum cinnamomeum. Tentatively, another variety could be in the Campanulatum Series. Identification will take a while as the plants are all pretty small yet to determine much of their characteristics.
The following year, we received seed of seven more varieties, also collected by Mrs. Sturtevant at approximately the same elevation. These were identified by numbers also, as Sturtevant #021 to #027. As there was very little of this batch of seed, we did not share it, but are growing it on ourselves for the time being. As with some of the others, tentative identification will have to come later as the plants develop. It is really fun and exciting to watch their progress.
Regretfully, we did not keep track of everyone to whom the seed went. So, if any of you who happen to be reading this article, are growing any of the seed collected by Mrs. Sturtevant on Mt. Everest, we would very much appreciate your letting us know your experience with them. Between us, complete identification may be easier to accomplish.
In her 70's, Mrs. Sturtevant is still enjoying climbing mountains! We hope that she will continue to collect rhododendron seed when she has the opportunity. What she did just for fun may prove to have brought us a new species. Time will tell. So, three cheers for this fantastic lady. We feel that she deserves all the credit she can get. Don't you agree?