In Praise Of Yaks
Shirley Harry, Roswell, Georgia
Reprinted from the Azalea Chapter newsletter
If you have not yet included a yakushimanum or "Yak" rhododendron, either a species selection or a hybrid, in your planting you are missing something really special.
The oldest Yaks in our yard were acquired 12 or 13 years ago when they were yearlings or two-year olds. They now have reached a height and width of three to four feet and their growth habit is dense and compact. Their leaves are small to medium size and the undersides of the species and many of the hybrids are coated with a thick cinnamon-colored, velvety indumentum. Most bugs find tough going here and proceed to more tender plants. New growth is a succulent, fuzzy grey or silvery green. The species is free-flowering. Its blossoms are very pale to medium pink, as are those of most of the hybrids. Although much effort is being made to introduce more color variation and showier form in the flower without sacrificing the perfection of the plant form, the Yak would be an outstanding plant if it never bloomed at all. It endures a great deal of sun and exposure and makes a fine foundation or foreground plant. The Yak's biggest drawback is its propensity for fall flowering, which is a minor fault indeed.
Try one of the species selections, yakushimanum Exbury,' 'Koichiro Wada' FCC, 'Mist Maiden,' or 'Ken Janeck' for a starter. 'Nestucca' is a superior white hybrid and 'Yaku Incense' is also a good one. 'Golden Torch' is a so-called yellow that does well in this area, but its bloom is more cream than yellow. Yakushimanum x 'Mars' and the reverse crosses - are often light red or heavily freckled with red. The late Bob Perry of the William Bartram Chapter won a "Best of Show" at the Southeastern Chapter flower show in 1980 with one of his crosses, an arresting big light red completely covered with bright red freckles. He distributed cuttings to friends and acquaintances and we are lucky enough to have a small budded plant that will bloom for the first time next spring - winter weather permitting.
During the past two winters the only Yaks we lost were very young plants of Yak #7 and Yak #12. Our numerous other Yaks survived unscathed and have exhibited no die-back or other unpleasant symptoms. None bloomed this past spring, but then, neither did most other varieties.