QBARS - v15n1 Rhododendrons Arise From the Dead

Rhododendrons Arise From The Dead
Clive L. Justice, Vancouver, B.C.

Most of us here on the Pacific Coast are by now all too familiar with the 1955 freeze and the resulting havoc it wrought to our rhododendrons. While many were cut back severely, others never recovered, and eventually died, to be dug up with regret and consigned to the incinerator.

New growth sprouting from the roots of plants killed in the 1955 freeze.
Fig. 10.  New growth sprouting from the
roots of plants killed in the 1955 freeze.
Justice photo

During a visit to Dr. McKee's home in Abbotsford, 40 miles east of Vancouver, B.C., last spring (1960), Allyne Cooke and I discovered several dead sticks in amongst a planting of some 400 rhododendrons set out in rows that had been 3-4 feet high prior to the 1955 freeze. To our amazement strong new growth was coming from the base of the old stumps and the dead branches. After much crawling on hands and knees we discovered 8 in all. These first cross seedlings of the R. fortunei and triflorum series were planted by Dr. McKee some 12 years ago and are now over 20 years old. Dr. McKee has purposely neglected them, and has never watered or mulched them. On a south sandy loam slope, in full sun, these rhododendrons have been left to their own devices. Those that died were left completely undisturbed in their place in the row. We found that all the new growth was firmly attached to the old root, ruling out the possibility that they might have been naturalized seedling (Fig. 10). Dr. McKee confirmed that these had died as a result of the '55 freeze.
In order to confirm our discovery we returned in late September to photograph them. Although it was difficult to locate all eight again in among rhododendrons 6-8 feet high and as broad, we managed to find four, each with several stems and from 4-8" of new growth. Photographing them offered some difficulties but we managed to get some shots out of the roll.
While it is fairly common for many plants, rhododendrons included, to renew themselves from their roots if cut or frozen to the ground during the following season, but we feel it is quite unusual for this to occur after four seasons. This is apparently the case with these rhododendrons of Dr. McKee's. Maybe in the future we should not be too hasty in digging up dead (?) plants and destroying them.