Standards for Judging Rhododendrons (Azaleas)
By Hoyt S. Haddock
Silver Spring, MD
I have just finished filling out the American Rhododendron Society's Rating Survey for the Year Book. In view of the fact that I don't know how to make quality ratings, I did it by comparison with others of known rating. Obviously this is most unsatisfactory. I would like to see some standards developed for judging rhododendrons, that everyone could understand and use.
For several years I have attempted to get basic data for judging rhododendrons. The American Rhododendron Society, and many who are experts on growing as well as the Royal Horticultural Society have all been contacted to no avail. Everyone agrees that standards are essential. Remember that four (xxxx) xes preceding the name of a rhododendron, designates it as the best. Do you know how a rhododendron gets one of those xes? I don't! Well. I intend to do something about it. So here goes my ignorant neck-all the way out.
At the outset let everyone understand that I lay no claim to being a rhododendron judge. Now with this out of the way let us proceed to develop standards which will permit us to judge this "King of Flowers."
First, let us all agree that a perfect rhododendron, if there were one, would score 100 points. Well, now we have the 100 points, next we had better decide what a perfect rhododendron would be like. Here then, for the purpose of argument is what I consider the perfect rhododendron:
Symmetrical in stem and foliage. The foliage would be persistent (evergreen). New growth and old growth
1. Attractiveness - The plant must must have an attractive appearance with relation to the plant, typical of the species in size, color and texture, twelve (12) months of the year.
2. Vigor and Strength - The plant would be vigorous in growth and strong of body stem and leaf, sufficient to withstand normal weather hazards. The stem would be capable of supporting foliage and bloom without excessive bending.
3. Resistance to disease and insect injury must be strong.
4. Hardiness - must be possessed in sufficient quantity to withstand damage to plant or buds because of cold, heat, wind, snow, heaving, drought and moisture.
5. Color - must be clear, bright, intense, pure, luminous and fast-until bloom falls clean to the ground.
6. Profuseness - must be sufficient to cover foliage from view, and last throughout the year, either through succession or recurrence of bloom.
7. Form of individual flowers and the truss must be symmetrical, gracefully shaped, in proportion to the stem and foliage, and held firmly, both as individual flowers and as a group in a truss.
8. Substance of bloom must be crisp, firm, fresh, long lasting and durable.
9. Fragrance must be pleasantly captivating, gratifyingly strong and volatile, yet always alluring.
10. Size must always be in keeping with the profuseness, form, truss, foliage and stem-harmonizing each with the other.
Impossible? Of course, perfection in anything is impossible. If, however, we are to rate something perfect, then we must have perfect standards. Next. we must reduce these standards to points, the sum of which will equal our 100 points. Here again we must be arbitrary.
PLANT 50% 1. Attractiveness 25 2. Vigor and Strength 15 3. Resistance to disease and strength 10 4. Hardiness to be rated in accordance with the hardiness rating system already developed. No points assigned. BLOOM 50% 5. Color 15 6. Profuseness 10 7. Form 10 8. Substance 5 9. Fragrance 5 10. Size 5
Once agreement can be reached on the assignment of points to the main category, then a further breakdown under each is desirable. For example we could assign under color a specified number of points to each of the considerations - clearness, brightness, intensity, pureness, fastness, luminescence and for falling clean.
Now let us actually rate a rhododendron, using this rough point system. Here again we can pick one arbitrarily, 'Purple Splendor'. This is a good subject, because it is the outstanding purple to date.
1. Attractiveness - The plant is about the same in height as spread. The branches and foliage do not cover the lower part of the main stem. The leaves are a dull dark green of good size and shape when mature. New leaves are light green and blend well with the old foliage. The leaves are persistent (evergreen) getting slightly darker in winter. The foliage is not as thick as in some varieties and not as full as is desired. The leaves have good texture and are durable and well shaped.
18 2. Vigor and Strength - For me Purple Splendor is slower growing than I would like, and slower than others of the variety. The plant, to date, has withstood the onslaught of the elements as well as could be expected. Stems hold the trusses firmly above the foliage. 13
3. Resistance - Occasionally a leaf is damaged by some chewing insect. This damage is less than on many varieties, and no more than on others. To date no disease has app. art d to damage our plants of this variety in any way.
8 4. Hardiness H-4
5. Color - Is neither clear nor bright. The intensity is strong, very fast, moderately pure, slightly luminous and fall clean.
11 6. Profuseness - Blooms are plentiful as compared with other varieties, covering about 60% of the foliage at once. The bloom lasts here just over 30 days, which is better than most varieties. There is no succession or recurrence of bloom. 4 7. Form - Individual flowers and trusses are symmetrical, gracefully shaped, in proportion to stem and foliage. The flowers are firm individually and as trusses. Here the truss contains from 10 to 20 flowers each. Unopened flower buds are not visible. 8 8. Substance - The flowers are vary crisp, stronger than many varieties, moderately fresh and last as long as most varieties and are very durable. 4 9. Size - Individual blooms run uniformly in size, the trusses vary only slightly as the number of blooms vary. 4 10. Fragrance - None 0
Thus we get a total rating of 70 points for 'Purple Splendor'. We must admit that this is a top ranking rhododendron. By today's standards is certainly close to the top of the varieties. Practically everyone will agree that it is the best purple. (Frankly I didn't like it or any purple, until last year). In any event we can compare it easily with the "perfect" rhododendron by using the point system. Too, we get an idea of how far we must go in hybridizing to approach what we really want.
But now what about the assignment of those elusive xs? If we're going to use the x system as compared to the straight point system, again we must be arbitrary. We now have several varieties with the highest rating possible. Certainly we are going to develop varieties that are much superior to present day plants with the highest ratings. This means then that we must assign the x today and as we develop better plants, take the x away from those that are over rated according to later standards. I suggest that we consider each consecutive 25 points as a unit for being assigned an x. Then under plant assign an x for 20 or more points and under bloom an x for 15 or more points.
Since Attractiveness is assigned 25 points it would rate an x if given 20 or more points. We've only rated it 18, so no x. Vigor and Strength plus Resistance are assigned 25 points, and since they are rated a total of 21 points would receive an x. Color and Profuseness are assigned 25 points and rate 15 points so would not get an x. Form, Substance, Size and Fragrance are assigned 25 points and rate 20 points and would get an x. Following this procedure we get xxx rating for 70 points. Since 70 points is just over two thirds the value, this seems to be a fairly good comparative rating.
At this time I want to express a strong desire for using the point system entirely and eliminating the x system. We certainly must use points to evaluate at the outset. Points will clearly demonstrate the difference in value of the variety, and not get us into trouble because we must assign xxxx to plants which are superior to varieties now rated xxxx. Too, there could be a large point variance between the assignment of x ratings at any time, thereby not giving the true comparative value of the plants.
I'm quite aware that I'll get plenty of disagreement with these thoughts. However, if disagreement will help arrive at a "Standard for Judging Rhododendrons", then we all should be prepared to disagree to the end that we can all rate rhododendrons from the same base.