QBARS - v25n1 The Pacific Rhododendron Conference of 1970

The Pacific Rhododendron Conference of 1970
A. W. Headlam, Bentleigh, Australia

When I wrote on the subject of rhododendrons in Australia in the April 1970 Bulletin, the Pacific Conference seemed to be an event away in the distant future, but time has a habit of passing all too quickly, and soon the Australian contingent was on its way to New Zealand. Not being a member of this fortunate group, I am unable to describe the famous beauty spots and gardens included in the New Zealand itinerary, but from all accounts a wonderful time was had by all.

The American, Australian and New Zealand contingents, now like life-long friends, arrived in Sydney October 26, and visits were made to the Blue Mountains and some of the well known rhododendron gardens in that area.

Arriving in Melbourne on October 29, the first function was the registration of Delegates, followed by the opening Conference and a dinner at the Hotel Federal. Mr. Ralph Sangster, Conference Convenor, welcomed the Delegates and expressed the wish that the Australian section would measure up to expectations. He then introduced Mr. Gilbert Chandler, Minister of Agriculture for Victoria, who officially opened the Conference. Mr. Chandler, who has been closely associated with the Society since its inception in 1958 was a very appropriate choice, for it was he who opened the Society's first Annual Show at Olinda in 1960, then our recently elected President, Mr. Alan Raper, spoke briefly on the Conference and the Society.

Mr. Peter Barber from Exbury, our only visitor from England, was introduced and he wished the Conference success as well as bringing messages of congratulations and wishes for the success of the Conference from Lord Aberconway and Mr. Edmund de Rothschild, and finally a description of the Australian rhododendron scene by a Member of our Society, Mr. J. Wilson.

The following day an inspection of the Melbourne Botanical Gardens was made and many of the visitors were generous in their praise of the beauty and the numerous trees and shrubs which have been brought from many parts of the world. I am afraid this is a case in point where we in Melbourne are not fully appreciative of the beauty of our own gardens, and visit them quite infrequently; it takes a visit by people from the other side of the world to bring us to the realization that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the street.

The second session on Friday evening, devoted to the Malesian species of rhododendrons, was opened by Dr. R. M. Withers, perhaps better known for his work in the field of the genus Lilium , he is, however. a very successful grower of Malesian rhododendrons.

Dr. Withers introduced the main speaker of the evening, Reverend Canon N. G. G. Cruttwell from the Mission Station at Agaun, New Guinea. who gave an outstanding lecture illustrated throughout by color slides of a very high standard. Canon Cruttwell's presentation left nothing to be desired; he commenced by showing a map of the eastern section of Papua New Guinea. and described the general topography, then some slides depicting his headquarters, the Mission Station at Agaun, showing an air strip in the valley, making possible the journey from the coast in 25 minutes as against five days by the hard way on foot. Slides were shown of the extremely rugged country and some of the terraced gardens of the local natives, located precariously on extremely steep mountain sides.

Then followed slides of a rhododendron which he discovered in 1947 on Mt. Simpson (known by the native people as Matawani), at an altitude of 8900 feet. It had long narrow white tubes, slightly curved, with five small lobes at the end, and ten golden stamens. It proved to be a completely new species and fulfilled a life-long ambition to have a rhododendron named after him, and was duly named R. cruttwellii by Dr. H. Sleumer.

Slides were then shown of R. christianae , a beautiful species which abounds in the Daga country of New Guinea where it grows from altitudes from 2,000 to 5,000 feet, growing in precipitous places and on steep banks of gullies. It was named R. christianae after Canon Cruttwell's mother, by Dr. Sleumer. R. christianae has a wide tubular corolla shaded deep yellow to orange or bright orange at the lobes, generally the higher the altitude the better the color. The whole plant is a mass of blooms which hide the leaves, and Canon Cruttwell said that he had been able to identify the blaze of orange shining on cliffs from considerable distances, and on some occasions even from an aircraft.

Then somewhat similar to R. christianae and perhaps a finer plant, R. zoelleri ; whereas R. christianae is abundant, R. zoelleri is quite rare, usually growing on cliff faces at altitudes of up to 4000 feet. The leaves are larger than those of R. christianae and flowers are borne in trusses of five or six orange flowers up to five inches across, yellow to orange red and occasionally suffused with green.

Canon Cruttwell then showed a cross-sectional drawing from which he described the vegetation at various altitudes, which was of considerable assistance in understanding the changing habit of the vegetation as the altitude increased-slides were shown not only of rhododendrons, but of orchids, vacciniums and several of the very beautiful ericaceous climber, Dimorphanthera Moorhousiana , with its profusion of attractive scarlet flowers.

Canon Cruttwell spoke of the unfortunate habit of the indigenous people, burning off vegetation to make way for the growing of their foodstuffs, and decimating R. christianae , leaving hundreds of charred sticks, and the wonderful stand of R. zoelleri at Bonenao which met the same fate. Slides were shown of R. macgregoriae , a species fairly common over the whole of New Guinea from 5,000 to 7,000 feet. Its flowers are numerous in round umbels, having hardly any tube and a flat corolla, whilst the shadings are generally a bright clear apricot color and make up for their smaller size with their profusion.

He described R. wrightianum growing epiphytically high overhead, and how on looking upwards to see it, the flowers glowed like brilliant crimson bells with the sun shining on them, then R. wrightianum var. wrightianum , which is much deeper in colour, and by reflected light looks almost black, but by transmitted light is blood red in color. He described the gorge at Birat where at 4,200 feet R. konori , christianae and zoelleri grow side by side.

unidentified rhododendron species
Fig. 10.  Canon Crutwell's black and
white drawing of his unidentified species.

He described a beautiful species of rhododendron from Mt. Wyatt (6,000) feet), growing both terrestrially and as an epiphyte, as yet unidentified; having trusses of four to five waxy trumpet shaped flowers 3¼ inches across the lobes, each petal having a basal crimson blotch as in R. konori , and the flower smells strongly of hyacinths, and finally two slides of a magnificent specimen of R. konori growing at the Mission Station, the first with a little girl to show the scale, and finally a close-up to show the detail of the beautiful six great white flowers approximately six inches in diameter. The perfume could be smelled for yards around, the nearest resemblance being carnations.

Then followed Mr. Brian Clancy who described the first New Guinea rhododendron received by the Australian Rhododendron Society, R. christianae , which was raised from seed sent by our very good friend, Reverend Canon Cruttwell in 1959.

The seed, collected between 2,000 and 3,000 feet on precipitous places in the Daga country, was germinated by the Australian Rhododendron Society, and young plants three to four inches high were distributed to Members both in Australia and overseas in May 1961, being the first general distribution of New Guinea rhododendrons anywhere in the world.

This created tremendous interest in the species and later seed of R. arfakianum, asperum, erosipetalum, konori, laetum, inconspicuum, macgregoriae and zoelleri was received from Dr. H. Sleumer. Good germination was obtained and subsequently plants were distributed to Members and by special request to Strybing Arboretum and Kew.

In April 1963 the well known English explorer and plant collector Michael Black flew to New Guinea to collect plants and seed of New Guinea rhododendrons, and 'to assess their undoubted horticultural value'. He was impressed by their beauty and clarity of color, and in three months collected a large amount of plant material which he generously shared with our Society. In 1968 he took time off from his second expedition to visit Melbourne and deliver his well known Von Mueller Memorial Lecture (Oct. 1969 Bulletin).

For ready access to the numerous species of Malesian rhododendrons, the Australian Rhododendron Society is greatly indebted to Rev. Canon Cruttwell, Mr. Michael Black, Dr. H. Sleumer and to the many friends who have generously shared their bounty of seed.

R. christianae x R. macgregoriae R. 'Denise'
Fig. 11. R. christianae x
R. macgregoriae hybrid raised by
Mr. Brian Clancy. Flowered at just
over three years from seed.  First
Prize and award of Merit
at 1970 Show.
Fig. 12.  'Denise' - a hybrid raised by
Mr. V. J. Boulter of Olinda.
'Winter Favorite' x 'Chrysomanicum'
An attractive densely flowered plant with
white flowers shaded to deep apricot.
R. 'Letty Edwards'
Fig. 13.  'Letty Edwards' seedling white
with flushed pink margins of flowers.
Raised by Mr. V. J. Boulter of Olinda.

Saturday, the first. day of the Annual Show at Olinda was an extremely busy one for all concerned. As regards the Malesian rhododendrons which flower intermittently throughout the year, some species and hybrids were exhibited, and Mr. Brian Clancy's own hybrid, R. christianae x R. macgregoriae 'won a first prize and Award of Merit. To enable visitors to see the beauty of these rhododendrons, an exhibit of fourteen hand colored photographs by Mrs. Headlam was arranged on a large display board, and created considerable interest throughout the show. It was very gratifying to hear Canon Cruttwell's complimentary remarks on the accuracy of the color reproduction.

Saturday evening was another most interesting session, firstly a very delicious buffet dinner prepared by one of the Ladies' Auxiliaries, followed by a most interesting description of the garden at Exbury by Mr. Peter Barber. This was followed by a discussion on new hybrids and hybridizing in America by Mr. Lawrence Pierce, Seattle, Washington, and was supported by a number of color slides of rhododendrons growing in his garden, which brought murmurs of admiration from the audience, plants of R. souliei x R. aberconwayi and 'Cameo' being particularly outstanding.

Mr. John Patrick sent along some color slides of material he is currently collecting in Taiwan, which included R. oldhamii , morii , pseudochrysanthum rubropilosum , formosanum and kawakamii as well as R. taiwanalpinum a new species in the Azalea Series.

Sunday was a busy day for all with the Show and more visits to gardens, and Sunday evening's session was provided by three speakers. Mr. J. O'Shannassy, Chairman of the Society's Technical sub-committee spoke of the first rhododendrons introduced to Australia, and described and illustrated with slides, some of our locally raised hybrids, the emphasis being on early flowering rhododendrons to miss our late spring and early summer weather. The following speakers were Mrs. M. Wood of New Zealand who discussed Mr. Edgar Stead's collection of Ilam deciduous Azaleas, and finally Mr. White Smith spoke on American raised hybrids.

An interesting facet which came out during the Conference was the number of rhododendrons imported into Australia-for 1958 the total was some 22,000 and the Government in order to preserve Overseas Trade Balances, amongst other items, prohibited the import of rhododendrons. This, at the time, caused considerable consternation, but was really a blessing in disguise as it caused an upsurge of propagating and hybridizing in Australia, and in 1962 the number of rhododendrons imported was only 126.

The final session of the Conference on Monday night, Open Forum, preceded by a buffet dinner, was opened by the Conference Convenor, Mr. Ralph Sangster, who stated that he was confident that much had been gained by the three countries participating and many friends had been made. He hoped that with a considerable gain in members and a good Publicity Officer, another Conference could be held in Australia in say five years' time.

Mr. Rick Parle commented very favorably on the Conference and he was particularly impressed with the garden of Mr. and Mrs. Harvey Ansell in the Dandenongs, where he saw many plants which he would like to have in the U.S.A., from Malesians to Maddeniis.

Mr. Wood from New Zealand thought the Conference had been most enjoyable and well worth while if for nothing more than the exchange of ideas-he considers another Pacific Conference a must, and thanked Mr. Ralph Sangster, Mrs. Sangster and all those working behind the scenes for the smooth running and success of the Conference.

Mr. L. Pierce of Seattle spoke of the problems of maintaining membership as the old hybridists passed on, and how to bring in new blood. His solution was the formation of small study groups on a variety of aspects on the genus rhododendron. Finally Dr. E. Hollowell spoke on the need of exchange of plants between the three Pacific neighbors, U.S.A., Australia and New Zealand, and the necessity of selecting plants which could adapt to their new environment.

Unfortunately Mr. Peter Barber had to leave for home the day before the open forum, but between functions and visiting gardens I managed to have a few brief discussions with him-he thought the Conference was a great success and expressed interest in the wide range of rhododendrons displayed both in the competitive sections and the Trade Displays. He, like many visitors, could see the potential of the National Rhododendron Garden at Olinda, and thought that in another five years or so it would be a place worth coming a long way to see.