A Man I Never Met
Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
This title should arouse some curiosity, especially when it is featured as an article in a rhododendron bulletin. During my frequent visits to Weldon Delp in Harrisville, Pennsylvania, the topic of discussion invariably turns to breeding of rhododendrons. Names such as 'Ann Rutledge', 'Bronze Wings,' 'Indian Chief', and so on are frequently mentioned as Stokes hybrids. These hybrids are relatively unknown outside the Great Lakes Chapter area but are being introduced into Canada by propagators in Pennsylvania, notably Tom Shirey and Joe Stupka.
| 'Ann Rutledge'
Photo by Weldon Delp
| 'Stokes Bronze Wings'
Photo by Weldon Delp
The question that naturally arises is, "Who was Stokes?" I learned from Rhododendrons of the World, written by David Leach, that Warren Stokes was a nurseryman in Butler, Pennsylvania. Some Stokes hybrids are listed in the index although, for whatever reason, his name is not mentioned in the book Hybrids and Hybridizers. Many of his hybrids are still being used to increase plant hardiness and promote special floral markings sixteen years after his death.
Little has been written about this man who left such a legacy. Through the cooperation of various people I have been able to compile the following information. Warren Stokes was born and raised in Butler County, Pennsylvania. After returning from two years overseas in World War I, he worked for a brief time in the Oklahoma oil fields. In late 1919 he returned to Butler to help his father buy a larger farm. He originally grew cabbage, cucumbers and tomatoes, selling them door to door in the city of Butler.
Warren was a great believer in using Michigan peat as a germinating medium as it contained mycorrhiza which assists the germination and growth of the new seedlings. It was during one of his trials with some imported peat that he noticed a different seedling in his vegetable patch. This seedling turned out to be the azalea luteum. After seeing it bloom, he spent the next 35 years growing azaleas and rhododendrons.
Although rhododendrons were his top priority, he also raised amaryllis and orchids in his greenhouse. He developed and patented Ilex crenata 'Stokes', which was much used by landscapers in Butler and surrounding areas during the early fifties. A brief description appears in Arnoldia (Vol. 20 #7, September 23, 1960).
| Warren Stokes with some of his red hybrids, 1958.
Photo by Weldon Delp
As a person, Warren was happiest dressed in bib overalls, chambray shirts - a real dirt farmer who loved to grow plants; a stocky, slow moving man who made every move count; a generous man who treated his help well. There are numerous stories relating to fish fries, corn roasts, and watermelon feasts by his summer help. He also enjoyed music and played the violin at various square dances.
Warren Stokes was a charter member of the Great Lakes Chapter but didn't find time to attend meetings. He was one of the first hybridizers to experiment with colchicine in the late forties. The named hybrids listed indicate the large scope of breeding accomplished by Warren Stokes during his lifetime.
Most of the Stokes hybrids are hardy to at least -20°F, surviving at Butler. Weldon Delp informed me that 'Ann Rutledge', 'Blue Boy', 'Bronze Wings' and 'Indian Chief' have bloomed at Harrisville after -31°F. Many of Stokes' best red rhododendrons were developed from the cross 'America' x 'Kettledrum'. The cross (R. maximum x R. catawbiense) also produced some outstanding hardy hybrids. Through Warren's generosity many of his hybrids are still being grown in various areas of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
I did not realize during my visits to Lanny Pride in Butler, that if I had driven to the next valley I might have met Warren Stokes. It was through my friendship with Weldon Delp that I first became interested in Stokes' hybrids. The more I learned the more I realized the various hybridizers of the Great Lakes Chapter area owe much to the legacy left by Warren Stokes in breeding for hardy rhododendrons. Warren died in 1969; he was 77 years of age.
For those of you who purchase Stokes hybrids, I hope this article will shed a little light on the man I never met.
Warren Stokes Hybrids Rhododendrons Azaleas Ann Rutledge Armco Aurora Australis R. bakeri hybrid Big Red Beau Blue Angel Delight x R. bakeri species Blue Boy Desert Gold Blue Horizon Dr. Cribbs Bronze Wings Endicott (R. maximum x R. catawbiense) Golden Delight Chief's Daughter Golden Dream Lee's Dark Purple x Newport Golden Fleece Dandee #1 J.J. Jennings Juniors Dandee #2 R. kaempferi x R. poukhanense Ethel Roupe large Mollis x Delight Fair Lady R. luteum - tetraploid Fair Lady x R. campylocarpum R. luteum - tetraploid x R. luteum Fawn R. luteum hybrid x Mollis General McArthur Mound of Gold Genevie Near Red x Mollis x J.J. Good Sport R. nudiflorum x Mollis series Heavenly R. nudiflorum hybrid x white hybrid Hiawatha Orange Sulphur Indian Chief Peach Blow J. Wainright Renaissance x Delight Landex Sent. x Gallahad Masterpiece Tangerine Midnight Dream Midnight Sun Minaret Mist Monarch Newport Opal Pale Face Parsons Grandiflorum (improved) Pocohontas Red Pond R.F.D. Ruby - Stokes' Song & Dance St. Marko White Find
The author gratefully acknowledges the following contributors:
Mrs. Olive Stokes Puff (Sister)
Mrs. C. Robert (Niece)
Mrs. Marilyn Hines (Worked as summer help during college)
Mr. Weldon Delp (Authority on Stokes Hybrids)
A. W. Smith recently retired from the Horticultural Research Institute, Vineland Station, Ontario, Canada. His specialty is breeding hardy rhododendrons and azaleas.