R. Taliense in Our Garden
Ruth M. Hansen
For years past, members of the Taliense Series have fallen under a "Tabu" heading, or Hands-off-for amateur growers. Why? Well, it seems that certain individuals comprising this Series just sit and do nothing for years upon end; of course they do enjoy the attention fastened upon them, but as for returning any favor, so much as a bloom to their gracious host, that gratitude is not bestowed until they get good and ready. That, generally being when they have become of age, eighteen or twenty years old.
It is little wonder then that Nurserymen in general scoff and make "most impolite" remarks about the Taliense Series. In fact, many will think that the paper used in printing this article about such a recalcitrant species is simply wasted. That, as it may be, every one to his own opinion.
In general, I am well pleased with the Taliense Series. For compact, well formed shrubs there are few that can compare with them, and from a landscape point of view, they can be used successfully in the foundation planting, a mass shrub border or as an accent feature where slow-growing, symmetrical material is needed. Their almost "Stagnant" habit of growth is to their advantage and also that of the collectors who could not afford their unusual beauty if they were of the vigorous growing type. Too often one finds the R. taliense relegated to some obscure corner of the garden because of their dilatory habit of bloom. Really, in most cases the bloom is unimportant anyway. It is the beautiful foliage effects from Spring to Summer which enhance the beauty of these plants.
Fig. 29: R. phaeochrysum of the Taliense series in bloom at
Crystal Lake Island Test Garden. The roots of this plant are
set at near the water level of the lake in the background.
R. bureavii ranks high as a foliage plant. Proudly holding up its new growth clad in a bright, rusty-red garment of the softest indumentum, it gives the appearance of flowers rather than new leaves. This same soft, rich indumentum carries down the stems of the year old wood. If R. bureavii never bloomed it would still be a worthy plant in any garden and certainly one of the most interesting. R. phaeochrysum (Fig. 29) starts out its new growth clad in a silvery, grey-green indumentum of zephyr softness; and as the season advances the leaves assume a more dignified appearance, deep blue-green on top, golden brown underneath. Like R. bureavii, R. phaeochrysum makes a beautifully shaped garden shrub and can be used wherever foliage effects are important. Needless to say, the foliage of these rhododendrons is their foremost attribute as they are unusually slow to flower.
Not all the Taliense are stubborn about blooming. One of the loveliest reds I have ever seen is the F.C.C. form of R. gymnocarpum, an excellent blood-red color which rivals any of the dark crimson rhododendrons. This particular variety seems to bloom at an early age; in fact our one-year old graft bloomed this past Spring bearing fleshy blood-red bells of a delightful waxy and glossy texture. This is one Taliense that is going to rate high in garden value for its bloom as well as its foliage.
R. gymnocarpum as described in the Yearbook is claret crimson, but the select form is an excellent blood-red color. The A.R.S. in re-arranging the species ratings took the award form as the basis for the raise to 4 stars.
Perhaps one of the most interesting Taliense we have in our collection is our Mid-August blooming species. In giving its history as far as we know, it was one of five small plants of the Taliense Series which we purchased in 1946. These plants had been grown from seed collected in China by the Dr. Joseph Rock Expedition of 1932. Being that they were only 14 years old, of course they had not bloomed. That was a minor detail, as it was the interesting foliage which attracted our attention. Two had a rich cinnamon indumentum, one had a vellum colored indumentum and the fifth, a more rounded leaf which was almost silvery underneath.
We brought our R. taliense home, really not caring whether they ever bloomed, but much to our amazement, in July, we noticed buds on one of the plants which had a bright cinnamon-colored indumentum. These buds continued to swell and by mid August we saw R. taliense in bloom. Needless to say, we were not much impressed for only two or three trusses came into open flower, the rest of them couldn't seem to find enough energy to open their petals. They withered while the buds were in the balloon stage. The late flowering date was naturally looked upon as an off season bloom and an oddity. However, the same performance occurred again the following two years. Each time the buds began showing color in mid-August and finally with only a half-dozen or so ever opening wide, the rest would wither unopened.
In the late Spring of 1949 we began hunting for something suitable for a foundation planting for the front of our home, which faces North. We wanted something low, slow growing with attractive foliage and bone hardy. The usual foundation plants as Daphne, Peiris, Skimmia etc., aside from being too common, really grow too fast, and before long give the impression of careless camouflage. Nothing seemed to fit the picture until we thought of the five R. taliense which were immediately moved to the front of the house where they have been most satisfactory in both line and color.
The mid-August blooming species failed to bloom after moving, in fact it skipped both 1949 and 1950, but as this article is being written on the 22nd. of August 1951, it is again in full bloom with twenty trusses. Each truss has from six to seven campanulate flowers and is about five inches wide. The buds are pink and most attractive. The flowers are white, shaded to pink on their outer edges with crimson spots on the upper lobes. All the flowers opened to their full capacity this year and we attribute this to the fact that the plant is now growing on the shaded side of the house and that it was well watered during its blooming period. As we have some of the hottest days of the year during mid-August additional watering seems necessary to keep the trusses in good condition. The rich, blue-green leaves of this plant now have a beautiful fawn colored spongy indumentum on the underside. Later on this indumentum will change to a deep cinnamon color.
I have patiently tried to identify this Taliense from, "The Species of Rhododendron" and in collaboration with our Editor, it is tentatively identified as R. balfourianum var. aganniphoides. However, R. balfourianum according to the Yearbook blooms in April and now for four years our plant has bloomed in mid-August with no intention of blooming in April. It looks by this time that mid-August is its accepted blooming period. It is now practically twenty years old and stands approximately thirty inches high and thirty-six inches wide. It is the strongest grower of our group, making a full two inches of growth regularly every year. The unusual blooming date of this plant offers some excellent hybridizing possibilities.
In using rhododendrons in the foundation planting, form is really more important than color of bloom, therefore the faded color of our mid-August "balfourianum" is of little consequence. For a landscape effect these species do make an attractive year around planting and one far more interesting than the usual run-of-the-mill material.
A description of this mid-August blooming Taliense is given in an effort to ascertain if any other members have this distinct species.
Leaves: lamina leathery, oblong-elliptic, 4" long. 1" wide. Apex acuminate, base rounded to cordate; upper surface glabrescent with vestiges of hairs along midrib; about 12 primary veins on each side impressed, under surface pale fawn with thick spongy indumentum on new leaves, cinnamon colored on old leaves.
Inflorescence: 6 to 7 flowers, rachis about 5" wide; white, pale pink on edges of petals, emarginate.
Corolla: campanulate, 2" across, 2" long; lobes 5, uneven, upper lobes spotted with crimson markings.
Calyx: 5 unequal lobes 2 about 3" long, 3 about 7" long, split to base; glandular on back, fringed with glands.
Pedicels: 2" long clothed with persisting spath during flowering; color green, red close to rachis, tomentose and glandular.
Stamens: 11 to 12 of uneven lengths, filament white turning to brown. Hairy at base.
Pistil: 1" long, stigma green
Ovary tomentose densely glandular and glutinous; 6 to 8 chambered.
Style slightly hairy toward base.