By C. I. Sersanous, President of A. R. S.
It was the good fortune of the Portland Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society to receive this year several plants as a gift from Mr. and Mrs. John R. Leach, of Portland, discoverers of Kalmiopsis leachiana.
This new genus of Ericaceae (Heath Family) is a native of Oregon and while it was discovered in the Siskiyou Mountains bordering Oregon and California, in the year 1930, not too much has been done in propagating the Kalmiopsis, partially due to what was then thought a difficult plant to grow. Max Ruef, a nurseryman, attempted to propagate this plant and was successful in rooting, through cuttings, but after a year or so the cuttings died and Mr. Ruef becoming discouraged presumably gave up the culture. William Borsch and Son, Inc., Maplewood, Oregon, also became interested and in their 1938 catalog gave a description of the Kalmiopsis leachiana. This catalog illustrated the plant in color on the front cover and again in black and white on the page giving the description. For some reason, perhaps due to the difficulty in growing the plant, Borsch and Son in all probability gave up and in the meantime both have passed on.
About fifteen years ago, George Teufel, a prominent greenhouse and holly nurseryman of Portland, perhaps being interested in new plants purchased some of the small rooted cuttings and planted them outside for further use and perhaps propagation. These small plants, in their new home and environment, grew very well and Mr. Teufel has a few of the original purchase. Last Spring, early in April, a large specimen, probably 24 inches in diameter and 12 inches in height, was exhibited at the Gresham Spring Flower Show. Its rosy-purple or deep pink bloom, the entire plant being a solid mass of flowers, was an outstanding attraction of the Rhododendron section of this show.
In a visitation to Mr. Teufel's nursery, by the writer, during the latter part of August, I found Mr. Teufel a very interesting party to engage in conversation and he has started propagation of the Kalmiopsis leachiana. Quite a number of young plants were observed in his lath house from which cuttings have been taken. When questioned as to this being difficult to grow, he pointed out that the original plants received no particular attention, the usual compost and a small amount of peat moss, mixed with clay loom, was used. At that time the planting was in full sun with little or no shade. No fertilization was used and since that time no fertilizers were added. Other than the usual cultivation and water the plants received no further or particular attention than any other plants received, which he was growing. He did state that he thought Max Ruef, the nurseryman who originally started the plant, overdid the mulching by using 5 to 6 inches of fir needle mulch and which undoubtedly caused the mortality, in which all of Ruef's planting gradually died out.
The Kalmiopsis was discovered by Mr. and Mrs. Leach growing at an elevation of 2000 to 4000 feet, and on rocky soil. It is obvious, therefore, that good soil drainage is necessary and further one would not expect to find too much humus in rocky soil conditions.
The plant being a low growing compact shrub, attaining greater diameter than height, is particularly adapted to rock gardens, where presumably it could extend its root system under rocks in which the roots would be kept cool and most during the dry summers.
The Kalmiopsis is described in the 1938 catalog of Win. Borsch and Son, as being "a very rare and local shrub belonging to the Rhododendron Family. Found in only a few local spots in the wilds of Southern Oregon. It is very hardy and not too particular as to soil, except that we do not recommend soils which are alkaline. Perfect drainage is essential and if some peat or leaf mold and sand or silt is added to the soil the shrubs will soon repay you for the extra trouble. Would also give some shade in very hot dry climates, with occasional sprinklings on hot days. It grows from eight to twelve inches in height .spreading slowly by underground runners and also layered branches. Foliage is small, dark green in color and the flowers are pink, about the size and color of a good deep pink Kalmia, but not as pouchy. Flowering period extends from May to July."
You will learn from this description that alkaline soils are not recommended. You will note further that the planting soil described above is suitable for the growing of any Rhododendron. The writer saved a sample of the soil, which was furnished with the plants, at the time of planting the Kalmiopsis in the Portland Test Garden this Spring. Recently it was analyzed for soil acidity reaction. This sample soil tested 5.66 which is good p.H. for most any Rhododendron. Mr. Teufel suggests a good friable soil, new ground if possible, that would be suitable for the growing of potatoes.
My conclusions are as follows. Any good soil, loose in nature and new soil, if at all possible, with all other conditions the same as used in growing any rhododendron will grow the Kalmiopsis leachiana. It is a slow grower the same as the dwarf rhododendrons. It is a good type for rock gardens and will withstand full sun if it has to be that way. Will take zero temperature and survive. Possibly would be damaged by over irrigation. Good drainage with rocks for the roots to seek moisture is a must.
To those interested in Botany the name of Kalmiopsis leachiana was given to this rare plant by Alfred Rehder, Editor of the Arnold Arboretum Journal, Harvard University, as a new genus of Ericaceae from Northwest America. He states and I quote, "I propose the name Kalmiopsis, referring to its general resemblance to Kalmia polifolia Wangenh. In its inflorescence it agrees closely with Kalmia polifolia Wangenh, except that it has alternate instead of opposite bracts. The flowering in both species is a short raceme (similar to Rhododendron racemosum) terminating last year's branchlets; the bracts decrease in size toward the apex, the lowest being more or less leaf like: the persistent bractlets surround the pedicels at the base and together with the bract act as protecting scales for the flower-buds during the winter. The calyx in both species is five parted, rather large, colored and swelling at the base, forming a ring around the immersed apex of the slender pedicel. The corolla is polifolia Wangenh, except that it has but in Kalmiopsis more companulate and lacking the peculiar pouches of Kalmia."
Several pages in the Journal of the Arnold Arboretum, volume 13, are devoted to further botanical description of this plant, but space will not permit further discussion of Kalmiopsis.