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Experts and Answers

Do you have a problem related to rhododendrons or azaleas? A panel of experts has agreed to provide the answers to your problems in the Bulletin. Letters published in the Bulletin will be signed with only the town the writer lives in or near.  New members are encouraged to send in their problems since they are probably shared by others new to the hobby. More experienced members may be curious to know whether what they think is the answer matches what the experts think.  Our panel of experts represents all the major rhododendron areas. Among those who have agreed to be members are P. H. Brydon, Heman A. Howard, Harry A. J. Hoitink, Fred C. Galle, George Clarke and Hadley Osborn. Send your question to "Experts and Answers" in care of the editor.
As an introduction to "Experts and Answers" Hadley Osborn provides the question and the answer to a problem you probably didn't realize you had, and won't continue to have after you read his answer. (We anticipate that, in the future, the questions will probably be longer and the answers somewhat shorter.)

What's in a name? - El Cerrito, California.

An astonishing number of requests for tropical rhododendrons are received from the coldest parts of America. Apparently every other rhododendron enthusiast now has a greenhouse. But there appears to be lingering confusion as to what to call these exotic beauties.

The first tropic rhododendrons introduced into cultivation included R. javanicum and the early strain of 19th century hybrids was primarily based on this species. These form a very small part of the material we now grow. Thus this name has wisely dropped from use.

Malaysian or Malesian?
Malaysia is the name of a country whose territory covers just the southern half of the Malay peninsula and the states of Sarawak and Sabah in northwest Borneo. Malaysia does not refer to New Guinea, nor to the Philippines, nor to related islands. Malesia is not just an eccentric spelling of Malaysia but refers to a much larger area. It includes Malaysia and the is lands north of Australia and south of Taiwan. If you have trouble remembering, think of Malesia as a compound word incorporating elements from Malaysia and Melanesia. If you have been confused, you are in good company. The editors of Flora Malesiana used Malaysia to mean the larger area until 1964. If you follow their example since that time and use Malesia you will save yourselves silly arguments with geographers or workers in related fields.

Malesian or Vireya?
As explained, Malesia refers to a geographical area. Vireya refers to a botanical group of closely related rhododendrons. Sleumer noted the appearance of the well known azalea mucronatum (along with indicum and other azaleas) in Malesia, so they are included in his flora of Malesian rhododendrons. This does not mean that he thinks that they are any more closely related to the classic tropical rhododendrons, the Vireyas, than any other azaleas. Three Irroratum Series species are also included as Malesian rhododendrons because they are found there, though their closest botanical allies are of course on the Asian Mainland. The Vireya Section of rhododendrons includes all lepidote rhododendrons that have (I'm quoting Sleumer) "seeds manifestly appendaged by long tails or wings at both ends." Vireyas are found not only in Malesia but in Australia (north Queensland's R. lochiae ) and in eastern Asia (our old Vaccinioides Series). If you have not seen the very long tails of Vireya seed, look up the picture of R. vaccinioides seed in the 1949 RHS Yearbook (Figure 13). This Vireya occurs at lower elevations in the Himalayas.

In Short
If you are growing a population of seedlings of R. javanicum , you might call them javanicums. If you are talking just about rhododendrons of the Malay peninsula or of, say, Mt. Kinabalu in Sabah, you might well call them Malaysians. If you are talking about any of these as well any of the over 150 species of New Guinea or others from nearby islands, you should call them Malesians. If you are talking about a main branch of the rhododendron genus (lepidote rhododendrons with very long-tailed seed) that finds its principal home in Malesia but has a few outlying species elsewhere, you should call them Vireyas. If you try to grow any of these outdoors in any but very mild climates you may soon be calling them dead plants.

- Hadley Osborn