New Find of Rhododendron maximum
W. J. McClure, M.D. Waverly, Tenn.
Area of Kentucky Lake, Tenn., where R. maximum was found.
Photo by W. J. McClure
Photo by W. J. McClure
In the spring of this year Jack Woerner, manager of Inland Container Corp. plant located in Humphreys County Tennessee, was by my house looking at some rhododendrons I had planted and mentioned that rhododendrons were growing on Kentucky Lake just a few miles from my home here in Waverly. I laughed and said, "You mean Mountain Laurel don't you?", for they are quite common here in our county. He assured me the plants were rhododendrons and gave directions to the location. I remembered that about a year ago the nurse who works for me, Mrs. Joy Baker, had made a similar comment but I didn't take her seriously figuring she was seeing something else; for the nearest rhododendrons I knew about were in the Smokey Mountains 270 miles east.
That same weekend I got out my fishing boat and two of my sons went with me, sure enough there was a bluff along the edge of the Tennessee River where several rhododendrons, some as large as small trees, were growing. A beautiful and thrilling sight indeed! From all that I could read I felt these must be Rhododendron maximum, but was not sure as the plants were not in bloom. I mailed a cutting to Mr. Fred C. Galle at Callaway Gardens to help me with the identification. Mr. Galle wrote the University of Tennessee and in turn forwarded a copy of the letter he received back from B. Eugene Wofford, Curator of the Herbarium at the University of Tennessee.
Both Fred Galle; Director of Horticulture at Callaway Gardens, and Dr. Eugene Wofford; Curator of the Herbarium at the University of Tennessee confirmed that this was indeed Rhododendron maximum and an important new find which extends the known range considerably to the west of previous stands in Tennessee.
The area in which these plants are growing is 150 miles west of previously known Rhododendrons maximum. The elevation here is 350 ft. above sea level, the summer temperatures are in the 90"s with high humidity. The winters are cold with temperatures ranging from above freezing to 0° F. with short periods of snow cover. Many of the plants are growing just above water and are easily reached by boat and I know at times their roots are probably under water when the Tennessee River rises.
I do not know if these plants are more tolerant to heat and high humidity than their eastern cousins, but I do know that these plants are in the sun from sunrise until 2 or 3 P.M.
I hope to collect seed this fall and send to the seed exchange in case someone is interested in seed from Rhododendron maximum from this area.