QBARS - v30n3 In Defense of the Lowly Mollis

Philip Bagetis, Centereach, New York
Reprinted from the New York Chapter Newsletter

The very mention of the Mollis in mixed company is enough to cause one to quickly withdraw one's head and sheepishly slink away. One is almost afraid to admit that one grows them. Now far be it for me, the least of novices to take on those mighty and knowledgeable folk in debating the virtues of our much maligned Mollis; those same folk who discourse at some length on the relative merits. of R. zeylanicum , R. xanthocodon , R. tsangpoense and R. hippophaeoides , completely overawe this writer, who is incapable of pronouncing such tongue twisters.

It cannot be denied that the Mollis foliage has a distinctive and pungent fragrance; some people find it reminiscent of skunk cabbage. Personally, I find its tart odor extremely pleasant. To be positive, in full bloom the Mollis is a glorious and spectacular azalea; it has a tremendous color range from yellow to red, it is a consistent and heavy bloomer, it will not only thrive. but flourish in the most outlandish spot in the garden, where one would hesitate to plant any other azalea, in full sun and exposed to all the elements.

One reads the Mollis is not hardy, that after a few years it is necessary to cut away old wood to restore vigor. This may very well be true, but in the seven odd years, I have grown the Mollis, I have never found it necessary to resort to such pruning. In short, I am very happy with my Mollis.

Could it be that since the Mollis is probably one of our oldest recognized hybrids, that it is now "old hat", that we must now bend our efforts to the acquisition of the very latest exotic azalea to be "in" and consign the Mollis to the scrap-heap as no longer worthy. Let us hope the Mollis will not go the route of so many of the Ghent hybrids and become irretrievably lost.