QBARS - v17n2 American Rhododendron Society Species Project Progress Report

A.R.S. Species Project Progress Report
Milton V. Walker, M.D., Creswell, Oregon

In the search for the truly diagnostic marks that establish unmistakably the true type species, all the available published literature on the twenty species presently under consideration has been studied, charted and condensed. An effort has been made to put in writing the essential characteristics of each species as a guide for members who are engaging in the Species Project. After much effort and study, the data assembled was found wanting in many aspects by the committee.
Much of the literature studied follows the original publication, and little effort was ever made later to narrow or broaden the latitude that is so evident with the often variable species. Where is the line drawn on what constitutes the so called type species? It is true that some species as in the R. fortunei group are remarkably uniform in foliage, bloom and habit, with the absence or presence of scales as described, and no difficulties are encountered. In the neriiflorum series, sub-series haematodes or the sub-series sanguineum , to name but two, much the opposite prevails. Foliage shape and size in some instances do not follow any known description, nor does the absence or presence of light or heavy indumentum, or the wide range of corolla coloration shed any light as to a positive identification. This leads to the real reason for the huge undertaking of the Species Project - the cataloging of known plants of the true species wherever possible, finding the best forms, and making both available. We know this job will take many, many years, but feel that it will be worth every effort expended.
Thousands of seedlings of species have been grown from seed, here and abroad, very rarely hand pollinated, and as a result much hybridity is in evidence. It is now very difficult to tell a species from a hybrid. What will be the answer say in another twenty-five or fifty years? Will the true species have disappeared? Much discussion and feeling is already leaning in that direction. True, the bees will sometime; produce an outstanding cross that will be a delight to a gardener, but while one good hybrid is being accidentally grown, thousands and thousands of other plants are being mistakenly grown under a species label that is entirely false, and are of such poor quality that they are fit only for the fire.
Now, the local Species Project Committees are busily at work trying to sift the wheat from the chaff, all the way from Victoria and Vancouver, B.C., under the guidance of Mary (Mrs. Ted) Greig, to San Francisco, where Ed Long and Jock Brydon are really fired with zeal to identify and properly label their fine collections of species. The committee in Seattle is doing an outstanding and very thorough job with the whole area divided geographically, and worked by teams. The committee met weekly for some time, with members traveling long distances to attend, and help set up the machinery for the 'bugging' as they call it, or detail reporting of the various species. Another enthusiastic member is J. A. Witt, the Assistant, Director of the University of Washington Arboretum. He has contributed hugely of his time and knowledge particularly in regard to the outstanding collection of species at the Arboretum.
Many members of the society have urged the release of information we have gathered so far, but the Species Project Committee has been very reluctant to assume the authoritative position of labeling plants as "typical" or "superior forms," until more study has been done, and more plants inspected. However we do plan to start publication of a tentative descriptive list of good forms, and where they may be seen, with the next issue of the bulletin, and continue in subsequent issues.