QBARS - v10n1 A Rhododendron Fancier's Dream is Nearing Reality

A Rhododendron Fancier's Dream is Nearing Reality
J. G. Bacher, Portland, Ore.

It has long been realized that the wholesale growing of azaleas would sooner or later lead to a point of saturation in demand or lower the buyer's esteem to such a degree that he would be apt to look for things less common with which to please friends. This is where rhododendrons could fit in and supply a more novel effect.

R. sperabile (1932 Rock Expedition)
Fig. 3. R. sperabile (1932 Rock Expedition)
Well Suited for Early Forcing
Bacher photo

So far it has been nearly impossible to grow and force rhododendrons into bloom during the months of January and February. Anyone with a bit of greenhouse experience who has tried to force rhododendrons can readily understand. So far the early blooming sorts have been rather limited as to colors as well as being adapted for forcing. Nothing has been done by growers to produce early blooming types suited for forcing. This should be the first step undertaken to reach the goal of greater popularization of rhododendron culture. This point of early forcing rhododendrons has been the writer's secret dream for many years and just lately I have found that flowering species such as R. sanguineum , R. sperabile and R. irroratum bring a range of colors entirely new to most of us. Their hardiness I believe would be superior to the best of present day varieties of popular forcing azaleas. Through the hybridization of these species it would be possible to get a wide range of intermediate colors. Now as to my recent discovery about the merits of R. sperabile which have been raised from seed of the 1932 collection by Dr. Rock in China and grown outdoors very often without care ever since. The plants are very compact growing, are freely branched but for one reason or another have never bloomed until a mild spell of weather in February. Noting this for several years I took them in to the greenhouses. There they came into flower shortly after. The picture reveals a lot better the form and profusion of these flowers than mere words can convey, the colors are a brilliant red. The earliness of the bloom and the low temperature of 45° F. to 50° F. at which they kept brings to mind the possibility of these plants for forcing.

R. cilicalyx R. irroratum
Fig. 4. R. cilicalyx
Bacher photo
Fig. 5. R. irroratum
Bacher photo

However you may say "What good is a plant that takes 23 years to bloom for the first time?" I am sure that if they can be propagated like other Rhododendron species they will make flowering plants within 2 to 4 years. But what a delight there will be in store for the person who can deliver them to the florist when they are in 6 inch pots covered with their colorful bloom? That time is not far away for once the selection and propagation is accomplished in a practical manner the choice of proven stock plants will usher in a new era. To this date only the standard sorts are on hand and these will not prove profitable to force in quantities for they require too much expensive heat to flower early. Experiments should be made with plants of R. sperabile , R. irroratum (Fig. 5), saluenense or others which are sure to make their appearance before very many years. The early flowering R. ciliicalyx (Fig. 4) proved itself unsurpassed for forcing and lasting qualities, a feature of immense value. Among the R. maddenii series are a number of promising species, that have the charm and size of Easter lilies. Much will be heard of these in the future generations, for growing these under the protection of glass requires but very little heat. Variations of temperature appears to be no handicap whatever to the R. maddenii group for those in my greenhouse have undergone changes from 35° F. to 55° F. without showing any harm whatever.