Watts with the Species: Rhododendron schlippenbachii
Lynn Watts, a member of the Seattle Chapter, has written his column "Watts with the Species" for his chapter newsletter for several years.
One of the finest of the deciduous species azaleas is Rhododendron schlippenbachii, native to North Korea and Manchuria where it was first discovered by an outsider in 1854. In its better forms a well grown schlippenbachii will be one of the outstanding treasures in your garden. The more sun the plant receives in the late spring the heavier will be the flower bud set for the following year. One of this plant's most charming characteristics is the leaf color in the fall. If the plant is grown in full shade the fall leaves will gradually change color from green to a muddy-brown. However, in a more open exposure the green leaves will change to a striking red and then yellow as they lose their chlorophyll.
The flowers which are borne in groups of three to six appear in early April and vary in color from deep pink to light pink to nearly white; the deeper colors are considered the most desirable. Reddish-brown dots in the throat of the flowers provide an interesting contrast. The leaves are 3 inches to 5 inches long, obovate to rhombic in shape and borne in whorls of five.
| R. schlippenbachii
Drawing by Muriel Van Veen
Of utmost importance is where you locate your schlippenbachii. Give it too much summer sun and the beautiful foliage will be reduced to an unsightly display. Give it too little sun exposure and the plant will not flower well and the growth habit will be drawn up and leggy. In exactly the right situation schlippenbachii will reward you with a gorgeous floral display in early April and beautiful foliage the rest of spring summer and fall. Even in the middle of winter there is a stark beauty to the branching habit of a well-formed schlippenbachii.
It is possible to root scions of R. schlippenbachii but these cuttings must be taken very early when the wood is still soft. The usual propagation method is by seed from superior forms. Seedlings are very vigorous and will bloom in three to four years if grown in an open, sunny location.
If you don't have R. schlippenbachii in your garden now, plan on adding it next year. You will be glad you did.