The Dr. Rock Rhododendron Seeds
John G. Bacher
Fig. 3: R. triflorum series in spruce forests at
Collected by Dr. Rock expedition in China.
Not within recent years have garden fanciers of our nation enjoyed the excellent opportunity to become acquainted with the world's most important garden shrub, viz. the rhododendron from southwest China and Burma.
It has long been the dream of Dr. J. R. Rock, explorer and writer. to provide his American friends with seeds gathered in the wilds of Yunnan and Szechwan. (Fig. 3 and 4) In this very remote district where Dr. Rock has been living for many years, he has had the opportunity of viewing the species by the millions covering whole mountain sides. In this dazzling panorama of the worlds greatest mountain scenery, a district where white man is rarely permitted to travel, Dr. Rock gathered seeds of many rhododendrons for his American friends. Recent political upheaval and the ever present difficulty of travel along with the absence of even the most ordinary accommodations will delay another venture of this kind for many, many years.
In Dr. Rock's connections with the Arnold Arboretum and the Botanic Gardens of New York he learned of the American Rhododendron Society. After correspondence with Mr. George Grace, then Secretary of the Society, financial support for such a collecting trip was arranged.
Dr. Rock engaged native carriers for the purpose of gathering as many forms of wild rhododendron species as was possible to find within the confines of the territory covered. Under much difficulty due to the adverse season (Dr. Rock almost lost one group of men) seeds were gathered of over 200 different items, of which 165 were rhododendron. Many from regions never before visited by white man, or collectors were gathered. Records were made as to the location of each item, the altitude and surroundings, as well as a herbarium specimen for identification. When these botanical specimens have been identified by the great rhododendron experts of the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh each field number will be a name, though the grower of this seed should always refer to the field number in years to come.
In order to cover costs involved, a price has been fixed at $1.00 per packet or 12 packets for $10.00 of rhododendron seed. It is to be hoped that the present lot of seeds contains additional gems of valuable new forms or entirely new species that will enrich the horticultural world for ages to come. It is a simple matter for the gardener to secure this seed, compared to the back breaking efforts expended in gathering it.
Fig 4. A plant of R. sanguineum series. Alpine regions at
15,000 feet. Collected by the Dr. Rock expedition in China.
Dr. Rock who is considered by leaders of English horticulture to be one of the best seed collectors, for many fine species and forms growing in England today were sent back by Dr. Rock. While Dr. Rock was in Likiang under the auspices of Harvard Yenching he wrote two fine volumes on this particular area. The title of the work "The Ancient Na-Khi Kingdom of Southwest China" is richly illustrated, and contains over 200 full page pictures of scenery, much of which by far exceeds our very best mountain effect, and even surpasses the grandeur of the Swiss Alps in Europe.
It should not come as a surprise then that the floral world reaches its climax there also. The beautiful mature rhododendron amongst the exotic shrubs and trees can not be surpassed anywhere in the world. As the Pacific Coast and many other sections of the Southeast and East coast are congenial climatically for the growth of these plants it is only a matter of time until we come abreast our British friends who are amongst the best growers of rhododendron in the world.
Since very few expeditions have been sent from the United States and propagations from seed so little understood generally it has always been necessary to import all the best rhododendrons from English growers and collectors, for they alone the world over are in a position to offer truly inspiring collections. However, importing plants from abroad leaves much to be desired, for it is usually a very costly venture and mostly a discouraging undertaking at best.
Now the opportunity presents the raising from seed sent direct from China. Members of the Society and everyone interested in the thrill of new plants should not miss this occasion. Anyone with capacity and only a little ability to grow these seeds will enjoy the satisfaction of bringing fine new plants into our gardens, not as an annual for a year or so, but for generations to come, for rhododendrons live to a great age. English gardeners have been doing this very thing for over a hundred years and their gardens are world renowned and a joy and a delight to behold. There is also a number of Primula, and Meconopsis as listed in the Quarterly Bulletin dated April 9, 1949, Vol. 3, No. 2.