The Strange Affair Of 'Janet Blair' And John Wister
James S. Wells, Red Bank, N.J.
Most keen growers and collectors of rhododendrons will know that there are two plants, one a seedling produced and named by David Leach and the other a Dexter seedling, which for all practical purposes appear to be identical. One is called 'Janet Blair', the other John Wister.
Are these two plants the same? Is there any way of sorting things out, and if so what is the correct name for the plant. Is it 'Janet Blair' or is it John Wister?
Under the international rules of nomenclature the earliest recorded use of a name must take precedence, and if the plants are indeed the same, then the name 'Janet Blair' must prevail. But are they indeed the same plant which has somehow been named twice. I believe that they are not.
Let us trace what is known of these two plants and see where it leads. 'Janet Blair' is a seedling produced by David Leach. He stated in a letter written in 1972 that he had sent "years ago a number of small plants of promising seedlings under number to the University of Washington" at Seattle, which I assume included the plant - although he does not say so - which he later named 'Janet Blair'. Apparently David Leach officially registered his plant as 'Janet Blair' in 1958, and continued to disseminate it as plants all vegetatively produced, from the original seedling, under that name. A number of nurseries, particularly in Ohio began to grow the plant and offer it under that name. We can with reason assume therefore that all the people who acquired plants under the name 'Janet Blair' at this time and began to grow it were growing the same plant which had originated and been introduced by David Leach.
Now we come to a second plant which appeared as Dexter #201, the original number given to it by C. O. Dexter. The first record of this plant being disseminated is in 1939. Brian Mulligan, Director Emeritus of the University of Washington Arboretum at Seattle reports that their records show that two plants - both grafts - were received by the arboretum direct from the Dexter estate under the number 201. One of these original plants is still alive and well in the arboretum. Brian Mulligan also says that all the Dexters which they have received over the years have come direct from the Dexter estate. Their records are accurate and well maintained and a close scrutiny of these records indicate that they did not receive any material under number from David Leach.
Following the death of C. O. Dexter, his estate was ultimately purchased by Col. Roy Brown, who moved some of the better plants from there to a nearby piece of land which he owned. In 1950 the Dexter Evaluation Committee visited Col. Brown and were impressed with one of his plants which they designated "Brown-Dexter #6". It was noted at the time that this plant was also tagged with what was presumed to be an original Dexter label showing the number 201. Col. Brown later sold the Dexter Estate, upon which still remained many fine specimen plants, a number of which were then dug and sold by the new owners to customers in nearby New England and New York. A number of these plants were purchased by Mr. Beinecke for his garden in Greenwich, Conn., and among them was a plant labeled #201 - it may well have been the original plant so numbered.
As always, the plant impressed people who saw it, and people visiting the Beinicke garden asked for cuttings which were willingly given. Most of these people, believing the plant to be still unnamed gave their stock a name. One called his "Smoky Pink" while another called his "Tony Manitell".
We now come to my part in the saga of Dexter #201. Soon after my arrival in this country in late 1946 I came to know John Wister. His help and advice was of great value to me in my task of rebuilding the Koster Nursery, at Bridgeton, New Jersey, and I made frequent visits to Swarthmore to see the plant material in the arboretum there. Learning of the Dexter hybrid group of rhododendrons from Mr. Wister we offered the propagation facilities at Koster Nursery to assist the Arthur Hoyt Scot Foundation and the Tyler Arboretum widen their collection of Dexter plants known to exist elsewhere, but which they did not have.
John Wister knew of the group of original Dexters growing at the University of Washington Arboretum, and he therefore requested scions from Brian Mulligan. The records show that a group of scions all under number, were shipped to Koster Nursery in January 1952. All the scions were grafted, and as complete a collection as possible was sent to John Wister, some being retained by ourselves as agreed. Among those retained were two grafts of a plant numbered #201. I felt that many of these plants in this group would prove to be of value and would ultimately be named and introduced. In 1955 I was working for the Bobbink Nurseries at East Rutherford, and remembering the group of plants received in 1952 I now wished to obtain the group again and wrote to Mr. Mulligan asking if the shipment could be duplicated. This he very kindly consented to do, and a group of scions was duly received at Bobbinks and grafted. Among this group was again Number 201. In 1956 I commenced my own nursery at Red Bank, New Jersey, and Mr. George White of Bobbink Nursery very kindly and generously gave me the group of Dexter Hybrids which we had grafted earlier. This group became some of the first plants set out on the nursery, and a year or two later they were planted in a permanent position in the garden around my home where they still are. Two plants of the number 201 grafted from material received from Seattle are still alive and well.
As time passed the quality and sound commercial value of #201 as a really good plant became clear and I wrote to Mr. Mulligan suggesting that it be named, and that as the original material had come from him, that he name it. He suggested that if it was as good as we all seemed to think, how about naming it after John blister. I agreed. However, Mr. Mulligan is correct in saying that he did not name it. By this I presume he means that he did not register the name because he believed I would do so, and I must regretfully report that I did not do so either.
The name therefore was not registered. However, we began to propagate the plant in earnest and shortly thereafter it was offered by us in our wholesale catalog under the name John Wister and has been so listed for nearly 20 years. As time passed it became apparent that there were two plants, very similar to each other, one called 'Janet Blair' and the other John Wister. Which brings us to the present position and what to do about it.
David Leach assumes that his plant has somehow become confused at the Washington Arboretum with their Dexter group, and that propagation material sent out by them to me at both Kosters Nursery and Bobbink Nursery was in fact 'Janet Blair' and not Dexter #201. This suggestion is rather hard to accept because it is clear that the arboretum keeps very detailed and exact records. This is a possibility - because mistakes can and do happen - but I do not think that this properly and completely answers all the questions. If we look at the long and well documented history of the plant known as Dexter #201 there are three lines which this plant has taken.
First, to Seattle. Grafts were received directly from Dexter and an original plant whose history is well documented is still there. Scions from this plant came to me and through me to Swarthmore where plants known as Dexter #201 are still growing. Scions from Seattle also came to me again at Bobbinks - clearly the same plant - were grafted and are growing happily in my garden.
Second. A plant was removed direct from the Dexter estate to Col. Roy Brown where it was renumbered Brown-Dexter #6 (BD #6) and was so propagated. This plant had an original Dexter label #201.
Third. John Wister recognized a plant at the Beinicke garden which had also come direct from the Dexter estate which he now knew as BD #6. It seems reasonably clear therefore that all these plants are from the original source, namely #201 on the Dexter estate.
'Janet Blair' on the other hand has apparently always been grown under that name from material which originated in the beginning from David Leach's seedling. Although this plant has been widely grown, both Seattle and Swarthmore report that they have no record of receiving a numbered plant from David Leach as a "Dexter" or in fact receiving any seedling from him under number. Seattle says "Our Dexters all came from the original source" and the Tyler Arboretum says that they have received numbered Nearing-Reid hybrids and also Bosley Dexter plants under number, but no numbered plants of Leach's own production.
To further confuse matters, as the apparent duplication became apparent a number of growers who had obtained plants from us under the name John Wister decided to change the name to 'Janet Blair'. However, we have never done this, and all plants produced and sold by us came from the original plants received from Seattle under the number 201.
It seems reasonably clear that there are indeed two plants very similar to each other. However, the history of Dexter #201 goes back along way and is clearly known and documented. I think that it can be assumed that Dexter #201, and or BD #6 all stem from the original source plant on the Dexter estate numbered by Mr. Dexter #201. This is the plant that we named John Wister. Although it may closely resemble 'Janet Blair' we do not think it can possibly be the same plant.
If these arguments seem reasonable then we can assume that all the plants grown and disseminated as John Wister - no matter what they may now be called - are the same plant, and that for various reasons the name has not yet been validated.
In an effort to clear up this matter I recently visited John Wister - who at well over 90 is still alert and actively engaged in horticulture - to find out what he would wish. He likes the plant known as Dexter #201 and would welcome a firm and legal attachment of his name to it. As this plant has never been officially registered it would seem to me that there is nothing to prevent the registration of the name John Wister for the plant previously known and grown under the Number Dexter #201 and this is what I propose to do. If this registration is accepted for this plant then the name will be officially recognised as correct for all plants vegetatively propagated from the various sources of #201.
Note: The Registrar, Ed Parker, reports that Herbert Racoff, D. V. M., with the Dexter Study Group of the Southeastern Chapter, A.R.S., has been collecting verified material of the clone(s) in question for some time. These plants will be grown side by side for eventual in bloom comparison by competent scientists. Their conclusions will be duly reported in the Quarterly.