Ten Years Trying to Grow a Newsletter
E. White Smith
Some rhododendrons are difficult to grow for an extended period of time. Keeping a rhododendron newsletter alive for over 10 years is even harder. The newsletter is the "Vireya Vine." It is about vireya rhododendrons and is for growers of these special plants. The Vireya Vine was the brainstorm of the Education Committee of the Rhododendron Species Foundation back in mid 1982. Bob and Marge Badger did the first four issues on a borrowed Apple computer. I took over in February of 1985 and am now working on issue #35. For many years we put out the Vine four times per year, but now I only do it when I get enough letters to work with. Is it fun? Sure, but it is also a lot of work typing and proofreading at the computer. Could this be done without a computer? Sure, but not by me. In fact the Vine has kept me interested in computers. I started with a Kaypro II CPM computer (at 2 MHz & 64 kilobytes of RAM) on issue #5 and a really poor printer. Now I have a very high speed IBM clone (33 MHz 486 with 8 megabytes of RAM) and a wonderful laser printer.
Meeting new people is the best thing about doing the Vine. I know well over 100 vireya growers by sight. When I go to rhododendron meetings I always have some special vireya friends to talk to. I know vireya growers from all over the world. I have always felt welcome. The "Vireya Vine" is an international newsletter, which makes it sound like there are a lot of us and that is really not so. Maybe 400 people world wide try to grow these plants. We have 215 paid subscribers to the Vine. There are also vireya newsletters in Australia and New Zealand. The "Vireya Vine" is different though. The other people say that we are quite technical and that could be, but we just print what people write in. We also are cheap. We charge $10 US, forever, none of this so much per year for the mighty Vine. Just $10, and then if you want to send in more, or more often, that is welcome, and many people do send more. At first I only copied letters sent in and did not do any changes. I have slowly gotten away from that format and try to make things read so that they make sense. A few people might be unhappy with me for changing their writings but I am not aware of it. If I can't understand what is written then some other people might not understand, so I try to change the words to be more meaningful.
The Rhododendron Handbook, 1980, Rhododendron Species in Cultivation, is the only available reference text about vireya species. The "Vireya Vine" fills a gap and is useful in that sense. We have published a complete list of species both alphabetical and by their Sleumer number. H. Sleumer's book, An Account of Rhododendron in Malesia, is the only technical reference available and it is long out of print.
Most vireyas are easy to grow. They root from cuttings almost automatically. They don't need rooting hormones, but do need a well draining rooting mix. They are easy to grow if you have a heated greenhouse or a good location in the home. Most of the species will grow in the home after they get used to it. A good growing mix is ⅓ peat moss, ⅓ orchid bark, and ⅓ Perlite. Half strength fertilizer helps the plants along, but some growers use no fertilizer and some use the fancy pellet types. I try to keep the greenhouse at 50°F in the winter and put the plants outside in a lath house in the summer. Plants need to be pinched often to keep them from getting lanky. Vireyas are tropical plants and will stand almost no frost. They tend to be lanky growing because they are adapted to reaching for light in their native habitat. The plants will sprout from dormant eyes if they are cut back severely. Many of the species set flower buds as the year passes through the 12-hour cycle. During Christmas of 1992 I had 12 species vireya rhododendrons on bloom here in Tacoma, Washington.
There are only a few commercial growers in the United States and Vireyas are hard to find. Many of the amateur growers will happily give plants away to people who will provide a good home for them. What is so special about these plants? I think that they are beautiful, not well known, rare in cultivation, hard to find, and give a person a new challenge. The problems of identifying species rhododendrons has always been difficult, but this group is poorly known, and is a special task for some of us.
E. White Smith, a past Journal contributor, is a member of the Tacoma Chapter.