Rhododendrons on Postage Stamps
Clive L. Justice
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Postage stamps have long pictured flowers. They are favorite non-political subjects for the country to choose, and for the philatelist with a horticultural bent they are stamps to collect. Orchids, both terrestrial and epiphytic, top the list in numbers of orchid species depicted, and countries like Costa Rica, Cuba, Indonesia, Malaysia, Poland, China, Japan and Hungary, to name just a few, have issued orchid stamps. The subtropical hibiscus appears on the stamps of at least four countries: Indonesia (yellow tree hibiscus), the Cook Islands, Malaysia and Fiji (each claims the red flowered Hibiscus sinensis as their national flower), while Hawaii also has the red as its state flower. Which brings me to the picturing of rhododendrons on postage stamps.
The fifty states' block of stamps depicts the native Rhododendron macrophyllum as the state flower of the Pacific state of Washington and R. maximum the state flower of the mid Allegheny mountain state of West Virginia and by coincidence of both beginning with the same letter "W" they are paired in the block. While the state birds, Washington's Goldfinch and West Virginia's Cardinal, come off accurately depicted yellow and red respectively, not so for the rhodos, macrophyllum a little too dark and maximum a little too light pink. You will note that there is no species epithet on the Washington stamp. It may be that the postal service had Hooker's californicum for macrophyllum and so were reluctant to include it on a stamp honouring Washington State, so they chose to show no species epithet for Washington's native.
The obscure Rhododendron scortechinii on Malaysian stamps has all the colour forms covered by the issue of both national and state stamps. There are four colour variations: dark and light yellow with light and dark orange-red of this cloud forest vireya. It was named for Father Benditto Scortechini, a Roman Catholic missionary who botanized in Queensland and was appointed botanist for the state of Perak in 1884, the third Malaysian stamp down. (See ARS Journal Vol. 44, No. 1, winter 1990, for the full R. scortechinii story.)
The Himalayan state of Nepal's national flower and tree is Rhododendron arboreum. It is depicted in a stamp against the profile of that other great Nepalese landmark, Mount Everest. I have only acquired the four landscape and four portrait format rhododendron stamps, to describe them in computerese, very recently. As a CESO, VA (volunteer advisor) on parks and urban forests to the Chinese southern Shandong provincial city of Zaozhuang (don't ask me to pronounce it as I never did get it right), I was presented with a beautifully done-up, boxed book showing the sights and scenes of the city. Tipped in on each page were stamps loosely associated with the picture on the page. As the city is surrounded on two sides by limestone hills - I counted at least ten very large cement plants operating and the water must have been pH 8 or better - I never expected to find stamps with rhododendrons pictured on them. Pomegranates, yes, as the city administers the world's largest pomegranate orchard, an 18-kilometer-long (11-mile) mountainside plantation of these red flowered orange fruited small trees.
The eight stamps picture Yunnan, Sichuan and Tibetan species from Chinese provinces about as far away as you can get from eastern seaboard Shandong Province lying midway between Bejing and Shanghai. These are all familiar rhododendrons that we know and recognize: R. molle (azalea), R. delavayi1, R. simsii (azalea), R. fictolacteum2, R. giganteum3 (top right), R. fortunei, R. rex and R. agglutinatum4. The last is a small tree, collected by George Forrest in the Muli mountains of western Sichuan, with white, pink or rose flowers and leaves with silver indumentum underneath. David Chamberlain has reclassified it as R. phaeochrysum var. agglutinatum.
Are there any philatelists out there who have stamps with rhododendrons other than the sixteen illustrated? If so, the writer would be glad to hear from them. I will trade Cuban and Malaysian orchid stamps for them.
1 R. arboreum ssp. delavayi
2 R. rex ssp. fictolacteum
3 R. protistum var. giganteum
4 R. phaeochrysum var. agglutinatum