Some Comments on Azaleas: Their Kinds and Origin
Arthur E. Radcliffe, Pinehurst, N. C.
Azaleas can be divided for convenience into several classes, including Kurume, Pericat, Gable, Glendale, Southern Indica, Satsuki and Native. This last group is used here as including the deciduous Knaphill and Exbury varieties which include in their ancestry some of our American species.
The Kurumes are the early Japanese azaleas most frequently seen in eastern gardens. Even though their individual flowers are small they are borne in such profusion as to make the Kurumes a very showy group of azaleas. Little is known of their parentage as they have been grown in Japanese gardens for so long that it is impossible to trace them back to the wild forms from which they originated. The ones most commonly used are 'Hinodegiri', 'Hino-crimson', 'Christmas Cheer', 'Coral Bells' and 'Snow'.
The Pericat azaleas originated with a Frenchman living in Pennsylvania. He kept no records and kept his work a secret. His kinds most used are 'Madame Pericat', 'Pink Pericat', 'Hampton Beauty', 'Daphne', 'Salmon' and 'Dawn'. They are a class of early mid-season bloomers with an erect habit of growth and with flowers larger than the Kurumes.
The Gable azaleas originated with Joe Gable, Stewartstown, Pa. He has introduced a few very fine varieties; his 'Rose Greeley' is one of the best whites. Its ruffled chartreuse tinted white flower makes a nice effect in a garden. His 'Rosebud' is the best of the double azaleas; 'Purple Splendor' is the deepest purple; 'Fuchsia' is an unusual shade of pink. 'Caroline Gable' and 'Louise Gable' have extra petals that give them a semi-double effect and their color blendings make them both outstanding. Then too Mr. Gable has introduced late bloomers as 'Jimmie Coover', 'Jessie Coover' and 'H12-G'.
The Glen Dales
B. Y. Morrison spent nearly a lifetime in his work with the Department of Agriculture in the perfecting of the large group of azaleas known as Glen Dales. In this work he used azaleas from everywhere, and kept most accurate records of his crosses which are most helpful to hybridizers that follow him. They include many whites, a world of pinks in every conceivable shade, and many shades of red found in no other evergreen azaleas. 'Vestal' is the popular white although 'Driven Snow' and 'Vespers' rate about as high. It is hard to name a pink for there are so many and tastes vary. 'Coquette' is rose-pink; 'Fashion' is a deeper rose pink; 'Greeting' is coral rose; 'Illusion' is rose-pink and 'Rhapsody' is rose-red. 'Morning Star' stands out as a color all its own, an indescribable deep pink with a suffusion of yellow. 'Content' is a lovely shade of orchid-pink. It, growing with Rhododendron 'Roseum Elegans', both in bloom at the same time, creates an irresistible color blending in a garden. In reds 'Jubilant' stands out head and shoulders above all others as a deep rich velvety red.
Southern Indica Varieties
The so-called Southern Indicas constitute a group of azaleas originating from the crossing of two tall growing species from Japan. Very likely the name is from the fact that they came from the southernmost islands of Japan and were brought to Holland and Belgium by the ships of the East India Trading Company. They are associated with Middleton and Magnolia, for some of the first ones brought to America are still growing there. 'Pride of Mobile', 'Maxwell', 'Judge Solomon', and 'Pride of Summerville' are the varieties most common. They grow tall, to 6 or 7 ft., and bloom in late April or early May and range in color from pink to shades of pink mixed with lavender. Among these early importations from Japan a double form was found. Louis Van Houtte of Belgium is credited with finding these double forms among some Indian seedlings in 1858. No one knows how they came about and for want of a better name they were called, Rustica Flore Pleno, meaning in Latin, double flowers from the country. We still have a few remaining from the many propagated in Belgium between 1858 and 1875.
Some Double Varieties
The one lovely dwarf, 'Balsaminaeflora' with its tiny double pink flowers looking like miniature roses is an azalea standing alone because of its unknown parentage and because of its incomplete flower formation, having neither stamens or pistil. It is one for the plant collector and is a novelty in any garden. 'Benikirin', is a little taller growing, with flowers larger in size but having the form of miniature roses. It is salmon-red in color. These two are tiny treasures to delight the heart of a true flower lover. It is from the old Rustica Flora Pleno group, along with the infusion of other species, that Joe Gable evolved his lovely 'Louise Gable', 'Caroline Gable', 'Rosebud' and 'Jimmie Coover'. The double ones 'Andros' and 'Delos' introduced by B. Y. Morrison resemble them closely but Mr. Morrison says that they came from a cross between 'Vittata Fortunei' and 'Warai-gishi'. These azaleas from Southern Japan are a most interesting group; perhaps back before the time when records were kept there may be a connection between the groups that accounts for their similarity.
Closely related to these are two azalea species that have played an important part in our modern hybrids. They are R. danielsiana (now considered synonymous with R. indicum -ED.) a species from China introduced into England by Captain Daniels of the old East India Company in 1830. It is a medium tall grower with flowers striped with rose and lavender pencil marks on a white ground. There are also lower growing forms with flowers in shades of pink or a pink and orange blending. They bloom relatively late. Selections from this azalea are called Macranthas. They provide a nice pink for use after most azaleas have finished blooming.
The species named R. simsii, a tender sort from Southern China, being native of a warm climate, flowers after only a short rest period and soon the Belgians found that hybrids of it could be forced into bloom very easily, so through this species came the gorgeous azaleas offered by the florist at Christmas time and at Easter.
Another group, the Satsukis, are the last to bloom of all the evergreen azaleas. This distinct group of very late bloomers are dwarf growing, to not more than 2 feet, with some varieties growing less than a foot high and spreading over the ground to form a mat of green. In late May or June they will cover themselves with ruffled flowers 2½ inches or more across. 'Gyrokushin' covers itself with wavy white flowers making the plant look like a mound of fluffy white snow. 'How-Raku' grows a little taller but like 'Gyrokushin' appears as a mound of fluffy white snow in June.
'Wakaibisu', being introduced from a different source in Japan is classed as a dwarf Indicum but in every way it is like the other Satsukis. Plants of it were in full bloom on July 4th of last year. The large ruffled flowers of soft pink completely covered the mound of green leaves.
Many of the Satsukis have white flowers with rose or lavender pencil marks like the azalea, 'Vittatum Fortunei', introduced from Japan by Robert Fortune. This plant (probably a form of R. simsii ) has been used at other times too. Mr. Morrison gives it as one of the parents of his popular variety 'Festive'.
One group in the Satsuki family is of special interest because the flowers are different than those of all other azaleas. They are large flowers, with reflexed petals of heavy substance, resembling the 'Rosy Morn' petunia flower. All these azaleas but one have names ending in -getsu, and even this one has a name that has reference to the moon. This ending, -getsu means "moon" as translated from the Japanese; so there is 'Keisetsu', white throat with orange-red margin, 'Kingetsu', white throat with claret-red margin, 'Reigetsu', meaning 'Beautiful Moon' is white with red margin, 'Seigetsu' is 'Sacred Moon', a white flower with purple margin. Only one, the choicest of them all, does not end in getsu. It is 'Shinnyo-no-Tsuki', meaning the 'Moon of Eternal Truth'. It has a very large flower with a heavy petal that is wide and much reflexed. The flower is white with a reddish-purple margin making it a very striking thing, unequalled by any other azalea.
Beginnings of the Knaphill Hybrids
Every Carolinian should swell with pride because it was primarily from North Carolina that the native azaleas came to enable the hybridizers to develop varieties that take unharmed even the harshest changes the weatherman hands out. Circling the world to pick up species in China the hybridizers have blended four natives to produce a fine group of azaleas. The Nudiflora azalea, R. nudiflorum , contributed its beauty of form. R. arborescens provided its white purity of color and its unmatched fragrance. R. calendulaceum endowed it with colors found nowhere else in azaleas the world over. All these blended with the size of the Chinese Mollis azalea to form a class that has everything, hardiness, vigor, rapid growth, size of flower unequalled by even our choicest florists' azaleas and an elegance of fragrance that is not surpassed by even refined manufactured perfumes. Besides all this they have lush green leaves all summer, in contrast to many so-called evergreen azaleas. Then in late summer they take on glowing tints of striking reds before the leaves fall to show the beauty of chocolate-brown stems that stand out conspicuously in the drabness of a winter landscape.
The history of how these azaleas were evolved is most interesting. Andre Michaux, a French plant hunter, is credited with having named the flame azalea, R. calendulaceum , but to John Bartram is given the credit for having sent seed to England in 1734. There is a long period before there is any record of seeds from other native American species, until in 1820 P. Mortier, a Ghent, (Belgium) baker is known to have crossed R. calendulaceum and R. nudiflorum . A few years later he turned his hybrids over to Louis Verschaffelt, a nurseryman of Ghent. At about that same time J. R. Gowen, gardener for the Earl of Carnarvon in England began crossing these natives, but not until 1870 is there any record of crosses with the Chinese azalea, R. molle , until Anthony Waterer started breeding to develop what we now know as the Knaphill hybrids.
The Exbury Varieties
Not until 1922 did Baron Rothschild start his work with the best of the Knaphill varieties, to start the Exbury azaleas named for his estate at Southampton. It is said that he got his best results by "selfing"; that is by selecting one plant and using the pollen from flowers on that plant to cross other flowers on the same plant. Raising as many as 10,000 seedlings in a year he would select possibly one plant when it bloomed and destroy all the others. In this way, over a period of years, seedlings would tend to produce colors very much like the plant from which the seed was taken.
Not until after World War II were his Exbury azaleas released to the public, and not until the last few years, when chemists developed the modern rooting hormones, have nurserymen been able to increase them by cuttings. Before that they could only be raised by layers which is a slow process. This is the reason they are just now appearing in nursery lists in very limited quantities.
In pink varieties there is 'Cecile' a lovely carmine-pink with a suffusion of yellow. 'Desert Pink', flesh pink; 'Strawberry lee', its name describes it. In orange-red are 'Gibraltar', 'Renne', flame orange-red. In yellows are 'George Reynolds', 'Hotspur Yellow', in orange, 'Klondyke', in white, 'Ballerina', 'Exbury White', 'Altair', and 'Sonia'. 'Princess Royal' is the largest of them all and is the most distinct in shape.
This group, eventually, will supply outstanding varieties that will endure for years and grow into large plants that will produce literally thousands of flowers.