QBARS - v18n1 Species Project Reports

Species Project Reports
Milton V. Walker, M.D., Eugene, Ore.

The Chairman of the Species Project had the great privilege this past summer of seeing the Species Collection at Windsor Great Park in England. The size and maturity of these plants was most impressive. We, here in the United States, are so used to our small and very young plants, we are not prepared for the majestic beauty that maturity brings to rhododendrons. The plants at Windsor are well spaced and arranged in Series, with not one or two forms of a given species, but often a dozen different forms, all carefully and legibly labeled with name and collector's number. To see thousands of these species plants growing superbly in a natural woodland setting was a sight never to be forgotten. Sir Eric Savill and Mr. T. H. Findlay have made a tremendously important contribution to the Rhododendron world in bringing together these several thousand Rhododendron Species plants for study and preservation.

In a previous issue of the Bulletin a start was made by the Species Committee to report on the location of good forms found, and the growers were asked to write short descriptions of their plants. Many complimentary comments have been received, obviously from members who either had bought what they were told was a good form and it turned out to be worthless, or were honest enough to admit they didn't know a good form from a poor one. These people are serious in their desire to know where they can go to see what we consider a truly representative plant of a given species.

The Local Species Committees, working from San Francisco to Vancouver B.C., are continuing in their search for good forms and while very few of the plants are mature, as compared to similar species to be found in England, many are very fine indeed. We want to continue to report, and bring to your attention the good forms in your locality, so you may see and appreciate them.

R. barbatum
Fig. 5.  A truss of R. barbatum , the Barto
form discussed by Dr. Phetteplace.

Rhododendron barbatum

This plant was grown by the late James Barto from seed sent him from one of the expeditions to China. Records of the explorer or number were lost at the time of the fire that destroyed the Barto home. (See "The Life and Work of James Barto," A.R.S. Bulletin, April p. 67 and July p. 147, 1960). It has been in my possession about 15 years, and probably flowered for the first time about then. It is now 9½ feet tall and would have been 7 feet across without misfortune. In March it is such a spectacular sight with its glowing red trusses and deep green foliage that on three separate occasions passers-by have rushed from their cars and cut good sized branches to take with them. This is almost the only vandalism that has ever been committed in my garden, and it is my belief that this has been motivated, not by evil intent, but rather by the attraction of such a striking appearance of a large shrub in full flower at a time of year when such things are uncommon.

The bark is smooth and dark mahogany brown in color. quite handsome in itself. Like all rhododendrons with such bark it does not break out with new growth below the point where branches have been cut away, hence the damage from vandalism causes permanent disfigurement.

The leaves are 3 to 5 inches in length and ¾ to 1½ inches in width, slightly cordate at the base with moderately acute apex, deeply veined above and with prominent mid-rib and lateral veins below. The juvenile leaves have bristles on the petiole and mid-rib, but at maturity there are only sparse hairs in this specimen.

The truss is compact and rounded, approximately 5 inches across, with a dozen or so deep crimson or blood red flowers. Though the weather is often inclement at its blooming time, the plant is attractive at a distance for as long as 6 weeks, the trusses even enduring light frosts.

It will not strike root by layering, and I have had no success with the few cuttings I have tried. It does graft in early spring quite successfully, however. There seems also to be some difficulty in getting seeds. Although several attempts have been made to hand pollinate, no seeds have germinated, for me at least. The plant has never shown injury with temperatures we have had here, occasionally to about 0° F. A picture of the plant in flower was shown on the cover of the Bulletin for April, 1962. More serious effort than I have made to propagate it should be carried out, as it would be a credit to any garden.

-- Carl H. Phetteplace, M.D. Eugene, Ore.

The 1956 freeze must have been especially hard on R. barbatum because they have nearly all disappeared. The plant above described is the only one of any size we have found in the northwest, outside of a pretty fair sized plant in the Arboretum at Seattle. Dr. Phetteplace has moved his plant to a situation more remote from vandals and it is becoming adjusted to its new surroundings very well. Unfortunately, as he says, it seems particularly hard to propagate.

-- M. V. W. R.

R. caeruleum album

The plant of R. caeruleum album now growing in the Portland Test Garden was recently acquired from Mrs. Rae James of Eugene, Ore. It stands about 7' high with a spread of 4' to 5'. Its flowers are pure white, with small red spots in the throat. The leaves are 1½" long, 1" wide and glabrous on both sides. The upper surface is almost a bluish green, the under surface more of a whitish color. It is without doubt one of the most attractive forms of this species in cultivation.

This R. caeruleum album came from Bartos' many years ago. It was selected out of a whole group, while in bloom, as a superior plant by Mr. and Mrs. Del James when they were real beginners.

-- Ruth M. Hansen Portland, Ore.

Del and Rae James had two forms of R. caeruleum album both obtained from the Barto collection. Some say that the form that was lost due to overzealous weed spraying by city employees was better than the one described. If so, it must have been a superb form because the one donated to the Test Garden by Mrs. Rae James is the most beautiful specimen of R. caeruleum album we have seen.

-- M. V. W.

R. strigillosum

The clone of R. strigillosum to be described was obtained from Royston nursery on Vancouver Island, in 1955, as a seedling about four years old. It bloomed in 1962 and 1963, starting twelve years from seed.

Several people who have seen a number of clones of this species say that this one is typical, and one of the more desirable expressions of R. strigillosum .

The plant is now about four feet wide and five feet high with one main trunk and branching from the ground. The leaves are dark green and about six inches long. They scorch badly in full sun here in the Willamette Valley, even when the plant is well established in one location.

Some people do not care for it as a foliage plant. I think it very distinctive with its oblanceolate leaves, with a cluster of long coarse hairs on the leaf stalks, or petioles. The young growths have many long bright red bracts on the stems, over the long, frosty white bristles covering the stems and leaf stalks. The bristles on other good clones have a reddish tinge. On still others the bracts are a pale green, giving a much less desirable effect.

Our plant has from ten to thirteen flowers in a truss. They are cup shaped, and a clear bright red, about two inches wide. The pedicels are not as long as are those on many plants of this species, and as a result, a dome-shaped truss is formed and the corollas look right out at you.

To get a top quality plant of R. strigillosum the buyer should see it both in bloom and in new growth. It is especially desirable that the better clones of this species be located and propagated.

-- Cecil Smith Aurora, Ore.

There are many good strigillosums to be found in gardens of the Northwest besides the one described above. Most have excellent color, and a few, like the ones grown by Cecil Smith, Ben Nelson, H. L. Larson, and Wales Wood have extremely attractive foliage with a thick nest of hairs formed by the radiating leaf stalks. As Cecil Smith points out, this species does much better in almost complete shade, in the Willamette Valley, and even in the Puget Sound area Ben Nelson's beautiful plant is grown in almost complete shade.

-- M. V. W.

R. insigne

Our Rhododendron insigne was purchased from the Layritz Nurseries in Victoria in 1957. We were informed at the nursery that the plant had been imported from England in 1937. Under good garden conditions it has doubled in width and is now 4 feet by 4 feet. It is indeed a slow growing plant. The flowers are pink and the truss is firm and rounded, with about fifteen flowers making it an attractive display. The plant is worth growing for its form and plastered coppery indumentum alone.

-- Ralph Jacobson Seattle, Wash.

David Leach describes this plant as a "handsome, neat, slow-growing shrub" and says that in cultivation it usually reaches only 6 to 9 feet in height. Despite the fact of its being typically slow in growth, the plant described by Ralph Jacobson is unusually small for its age. There are very few plants of R. insigne in good form to be found in this region but we think this one is a good representative of the species. There are no others that we know of outside of the Seattle Tacoma area that are typical.

-- M. V. W.

R. augustinii 'Barto Blue'
Fig. 6.  A plant of R. augustinii 'Barto Blue'.
Phetteplace photo

R. augustinii forms

There are a number of excellent forms of R. augustinii , some of which are now being grown commercially, others not yet on the market. These forms vary from light blue with a greenish blotch to deep purples with reddish-brown blotches. One of the most confusing classifications is the distinction between R. augustinii and R. chasmanthum . The difference, according to the Species book is so minute that I fail to see any actual variation between the two forms; therefore in the following list no distinction will be made between the two so-called species.

There are now three Barto raised plants of R. augustinii which have been recognized as superior forms and which have been given varietal names. They are as follows:

'Barto Blue', selected and named by Dr. Carl Phetteplace of Eugene, Ore.

'Marine', selected and named by Bob Bovee (deep purple).

'Summer Skies', selected and named by Bob Bovee (light blue).

Other selected forms are:

'Lackamas Blue', selected and named by Ben Lancaster, Camas, Wash.

'Blue Cloud' listed as a R. chasmanthum , selected and named by Ruth M. Hansen. The original plant was purchased by Mrs. Sophie Cason in 1928 and is still growing in her garden in Portland, Ore. Flowers are unusually large, about 2½ inches across with greenish markings, and light blue in color.

'Caprice', selected and named by Ruth M. Hansen, same source as above. Original plant was killed in the 1955 November freeze. Flowers large with dark markings.

From this same collection is a plant with the RHS-HCC color Imperial Purple 33/1. This has never been named nor propagated for commercial use but it is an outstanding deep color and of good garden value.

Another R. augustinii plant of excellent light blue quality was obtained many years ago from the Esch Nursery. This has large flowers, greenish markings and deserves recognition.

Robert Whalley grows a beautiful light blue form which has almost a white striping down the center of the petals. It is quite outstanding.

-- Ruth M. Hansen Portland, Ore.

The Species Committee has included R. augustinii in this report to draw attention to this species as being one of the best of garden Rhododendrons for ease of growing and beautiful massed effect. There are many very inferior seedlings being grown although there are a dozen or more very excellent forms available, propagated by cuttings. and therefore just as good as the best grown anywhere.

-- M. V. W.