by G. G. Nearing
Fig. 7. R. chrysanthum This plant in the woodland garden of Cecil Smith
is barely seven inches across but at least seven years old.
R. Henny photo
A dwarf yellow rhododendron of undoubted hardiness naturally catches the eye of any browser through catalogs who knows his broad-leaved evergreens. Such is R. chrysanthum. Seeds are. frequently listed. Schumacher lists 1/8 oz. for 95 cents-truly an extraordinarily low price for a rare plant. The truth is that none of the seeds offered, so far as I can discover, come from R. chrysanthum or anything resembling it.
The plants I have raised from several batches of such seeds are a stunted form of R. brachycarpum, slow to flower, not unattractive, and often with a pale yellowish tint. It seems to be entirely hardy, and fairly easy to grow, but it is not R. chrysanthum, does not look like R. chrysanthum, and should not be offered for sale as such.
I do not know who was originally guilty of this fraudulent distribution. Those who have bought seeds or plants under that name can hardly be blamed for perpetuating the error, especially since no one has ever taken the trouble to correct it. Anyone wishing to know whether he has the true R. chrysanthum or not, can find out very easily. He need only glance at the flower head. If it is at all dome-shaped, like the truss of the average hybrid, the name R. chrysanthum is ruled out, for that species bears a cluster almost as flat-topped as that of Queen Anne's Lace, and not too much of a cluster either.
But he need not even wait for the plant to flower. If any of the leaves are longer than three inches, or if many are longer than two inches, it is not R. chrysanthum. The typical chrysanthum leaf is not much longer than an inch and a half, with a breadth of up to one inch toward the tip, and narrowed to a wedge-shaped base. It is nearly flat, very little humped up in the middle, but curling under a little just at the extreme margin. (FIG. 7) The leaf of R. brachycarpum is usually from three to five inches long, elliptical, with little narrowing at the base, domed up in the middle and slightly dimpled along the veins.
Furthermore, if you have a rhododendron named chrysanthum, and it is growing and thriving for you, the chances are a thousand to one that what you have is the impostor. Just consider that the true species is decidedly difficult to grow, and is very rare in cultivation.
To make matters more troublesome, a form probably of R. brachycarpum in Japan has been named R. chrysanthum var. niko-montanum, though the Japanese consider it a separate species. It grows taller than one foot, which typical R. chrysanthum does not, and although I have not seen it as such, this may be the source of the chrysanthum which isn't chrysanthum. Japan also has the true species. I know because I have a twig and flower of it collected by Harold Epstein in a Japanese mountain bog.
If we could get seeds from the right region, we might be able to grow R. chrysanthum. It inhabits bogs at high elevations from Japan and Korea northward to Manchuria, Kamtchatka, Mongolia and the Altai Mountains of Siberia. Most promising would be those from Japan or Korea, especially Korea, since the more northern forms, approaching the extreme alpine-arctic conditions, would undoubtedly be even more temperamental than the average of this uncompromising species.
It might not be difficult to obtain seeds from both these sources, since we have established lines of communication with their civilized centers, but it would cost more than 95 cents. Expeditions would have to be organized at the right time of year to penetrate the isolated fastnesses of its whereabouts and search for ripe capsules. I think if someone who could afford it would offer $100 or so to some botanist in South Korea or central or northern Japan, enclosing a copy of this article, the seeds might be forthcoming in due time.