QBARS - v30n3 President's Address

May 22, 1976 Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
August E. Kehr, President, ARS

We are all interested in the Bicentennial Celebration. It is fitting, therefore, that our annual meeting should be held in Philadelphia, the home of the Liberty Bell, where our Nation had its birth 200 years ago. We are, therefore, pleased that our Society is joining the Nation in celebrating this Bicentennial Year in Philadelphia, and specifically in Valley Forge, both of which hold such a revered spot in the hearts of every American.

This celebration of 200 years of our American history gives us an opportunity to reflect on some of our American Rhododendron Society history, as well as of Rhododendron as a genus. Back 200 years ago in 1776, the name Rhododendron itself was just newly applied to rhododendrons for the first time, having been established by Linnaeus in only 1753. Prior to that time, the plants we now know as rhododendrons were given almost as many distinctly different names as there were plants.

Our American forefathers, if they knew about the native American rhododendrons and azaleas, were far too preoccupied in eking out a living and establishing themselves as a free nation, to provide much of an appreciation for these wild plants growing in their woodlands. There is no record, as far as we know, that Washington, Adams, Jefferson, or any of our Founding Fathers grew any of these plants at Mount Vernon, Braintree, or Monticello or ever gave them any heed.

Even in the British Isles, where rhododendrons found such a friendly home from the very first, you could almost count on one hand the species in cultivation - R. hirsutum , ferrugineum , viscosum , maximum , nudiflorum , and ponticum . In 1776 no hybrids were known, a fact which should warm the hearts of any good "species purist." Even 100 years ago, in 1886, rhododendrons in America were largely unknown.

A book published in Boston in 1871 by the American, Edward S. Rand, entitled "The Rhododendron" has this revealing statement in the introduction: "It is a singular and most unaccountable fact that these plants are in this country but little known in cultivation". Further on Rand says - and all through the Middle States, and up the slopes of all the Alleghenies, we find thousands of acres of the Rose Bay, or Great Laurel (Rhododendron). Yet seldom is a plant of either to be found in the garden! There is a popular belief that these 'plants cannot be cultivated'." Despite, this, he lists and describes 244 named cultivars of catawbiense hybrids which he presumably grew in his garden.

Another book written in German in 1881 (WO. Focke, 1881, Die Pflanzen-Mischling, Berlin) describes all plant hybrids known up to that date. Under Rhododendrons he lists hybrids between such old standbys as R. maximum , catawbiense , ponticum , arboreum , ferrugineum , hirsutum , campanulatum , caucasicum , chrysanthum , viscosum , luteum , dauricum , nudiflorum , calendulaceum , and canadense . There were also a few hybrids among the Maddenii series, among the Malesian species, and among evergreen azaleas. It is evident that the rapid developments in intercrossing species and species hybrids have come in the last 100 years. Interestingly, some of the hybrids reported were most unlikely combinations - such as canadense x ponticum , canadense x luteum , canadense x calendulaceum , dauricum x arboreum , and nudiflorum x arboreum .

If the history of rhododendrons in America is brief, that of our Society is even more so. The organizational meeting was held on May 29, 1944, at the home of E. R. Peterson on West Slope, with a Portland newspaper account saying "This is the first organization of its kind in the United States so there is a possibility that it will spread as the Primrose Society and become a national organization." Other highlights include:

(1) First meeting of the American Rhododendron Society was July 7, 1944, in Public Service Building in Portland. First President - John Henny, Jr.

(2) First Quarterly Bulletins were published in 1947

(3) First meeting of Eastern Division of American Rhododendron Society in New York City on Oct 30, 1949

(4) First chapter - New York - 1951

(5) First gold medal awarded in 1952

(6) First book - Rhododendrons 1956

(7) First silver medal in 1968

In view of our brief history we can take just pride in the American Rhododendron Society today. Our total membership as listed in the last directory numbers about 3,400 members, and our roster of chapters has grown to 41. Since last year, we have added as new chapters Southern California, which centers around Los Angeles and William Bartrum chapter which centers around Clemson, S.C. In the last year we have made commendable progress, which it is my pleasure - and function - to report briefly to you.

In my judgment the most significant development is the formation of the American Rhododendron Research Foundation, which will usher in a wide-reaching and long-range program that will go far in meeting the objectives for which this Society was organized in 1944 by the charter group in Portland. I am confident that by the time this Society celebrates its 50th birthday in 1994, this Research Foundation will be one of the most significant milestones in those entire first fifty years. Trustees of the Foundation: Alfred Martin, Judson Brooks, Jack Evans, Ted Van Veen, Edward Dunn, and Franklin West. The document was filed this month in the State of Oregon, and I am most pleased to report to you that it is now operative, with an initial budget of just slightly less than $1,000. Unsolicited contributions from individuals, and the Azalea Study Group of the New York Chapter, together with the contributions made at last year's banquet, have given the Foundation this healthy start. Our goal is $100,000 by 1981.

The Trustees are presently formulating plans to implement the Foundation. Funds contributed to the Foundation are, of course, tax deductible, and will be kept in perpetuity as an endowment fund. It is our intent that only the earnings of the funds will be used to conduct research on problems of rhododendrons and azaleas; problems such as the root weevils which are at epidemic stages in the North Central States, and have been a perpetual problem throughout the U.S.; or petal blight - the scourge of azaleas in the East; or root rot which is unquestionably our most serious disease of the genus Rhododendron. I predict that before we celebrate our 50th birthday in 1994, there will be a host of new problems. For example, only this year the first virus was found in rhododendrons, primarily in the cultivar 'Unique', and there are indications that other viruses are yet to be discovered. I am, therefore, proud that our American Rhododendron Society is taking positive steps to combat these problems by means of an active research program. In the next five years and starting late in 1976, everyone of us will be given an opportunity to become active participants. I will predict that this Research Foundation will be one of the most dynamic functions of our American Rhododendron Society, and that by 1994 it could be one of our most central activities. I have absolute faith in our membership to rise to the occasion.

Our Society is truly blessed with dedicated and active committee members. These committees conduct a goodly portion of the work of the Society.

The Annual Meeting Committee with Dr. John P. Evans of California and Dennis Stewart of New York has, with the concurrence of the Board, scheduled annual meetings through 1982, as follows:

  • 1977 - Eugene
  • 1978 - New York
  • 1979 - Vancouver
  • 1980 - Massachusetts
  • 1981 - San Francisco with California Chapter
  • 1982 - Washington, D.C., with Potomac Valley Chapter

The Ratings Committee, under the leadership of George W. Clarke of Portland and George W. Ring of Potomac Valley, is actively completing revised ratings of our rhododendrons and azaleas. This truly immense task is nearing completion, and when published as a new book, will be a masterpiece of years of concentrated efforts by many ardent workers.

The Plant Awards Committee headed by Dr. Ned Brockenbrough and Dorothy Schlaikjer has made difficult decisions and has exerted genuine leadership to make meaningful and realistic our plant awards. More than almost any other committee, this one must exercise good judgment and just restraint if our plant awards are to be truly a roster of outstanding plants. At its meeting on Thursday your Board of Directors made the decision to make plant awards on a regional basis, so that the awards AE and SPA shall be followed by a regional designation, indicating the area or areas in which the award is significant. The areas are: Northeast, Middle Atlantic, Southern, Great Lakes, Northwest, Northern California and Southern California.

For the membership as a whole, there can be no doubt that the committee which reaches every member is the Editorial Committee, with our uniquely capable editor Molly Grothaus at the helm. For these times of rising printing costs, Molly has performed an act of legerdemain by producing the last three issues of the Quarterly Bulletin at a saving of $500 for each issue and yet maintaining the uniquely high quality in content, color illustrations, and overall journalism which makes the Bulletin a coveted possession of each of our membership. It is no secret that the Bulletin is the rallying point for attracting new members and for holding old members in our Society. When notified that the Benedictine Press could no longer print the Quarterly Bulletin, our capable and conscientious Editor searched for and found new printers. The July 1975 Bulletin was the last issue printed by the Benedictine Press. Starting with the October 1975 issue, the new printer has been the Times Litho, using offset printing.

In 1974 a survey of the membership by Henry Schannen, our Society voiced a resounding desire for more publications by the Society. To address this membership desire for meaningful publications, the Publications Committee under the National Chairmanship of Dr. J. Harold Clarke, is developing plans to publish a series of books on Rhododendron species, the first one being on the Lapponicum series under the authorship of Dr. Philipson of New Zealand, complete with high-quality color illustrations. The committee is also wrestling with the publication of the long awaited book on American hybrids, complete with the new ratings of the Ratings Committee.

While on the subject of American hybrids, I should like to digress briefly to announce that the Loder Cup for the Best New Hybrid Rhododendron in the 1976 Early Flower Show in London went to the American hybrid, 'Hotel,' developed by Ben Nelson. This recognition of an American hybrid by our British coworkers is perhaps also a recognition of the high caliber plants being developed by our exceedingly active and capable American rhododendron breeders, and may very well be only a forerunner of the superior plants that are yet to come.

At this point, I wish to convey sincere appreciation to Dr. John Evans and his capable Honors Committee. Dr. Evans assumed leadership of this committee upon short notice as a result of the untimely death of the previous chairman, our good friend and coworker Mr. Harry Nash, whose memory we hereby duly honor.

Turning to the registration of rhododendrons and azaleas, perhaps there is no harder worker than our Registrar, Ed Parker. It has been a revelation to me to see the massive amount of correspondence he conducts with individual members in registering with the International Registrar, and the Plant Records Center the huge number of new plants being developed in this country. In addition, Mr. Parker has assiduously been attempting to register many plants which by oversight or for other reasons have been left unregistered over the years. In this Herculean task, he has been assisted by dedicated individuals such as Heman Howard and Dr. John Wister on the Dexters and George Ring, Ray and Jane Goodrich, George Miller, Mr. & Mrs. Haag and Carolyn Gable on the Gable hybrids.

And while passing out laurels, we need to place a special wreath on the brows of our Seed Exchange Chairman, Esther Berry. I am fully convinced that Esther and her hard working committee may have as great an impact on present and future generation rhododendrons and azaleas as any activity now being conducted by our Society. There will assuredly come the day when the Loder Cup will go to a plant which had its origin in the thousands (or maybe million) seed packets from "Esther's Exchange."

For 8 years the Slide Program was conducted almost single handedly by Howard Short, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. The reins of this committee have not yet fully descended on any one individual, though Fred Galle has done a yeoman job in reproducing duplicate sets of slides and tapes for 5 programs. A total of 11 other programs still await similar treatment. With the assistance of Emil Hager for the Eastern area and Art Dome for the Western area, we anticipate an effective program activity will soon be re-established. We are convinced that our Society will benefit, largely through increased membership by a series of readily available and highly effective slide programs.

Personally, nothing has given me greater satisfaction this past year than the establishment of the Pollen Bank by Marthaann Mayer of New York. The pollen bank is now both actively making withdrawals and receiving deposits of valuable pollen from all over the world. Perhaps the greatest impetus in the successful launching of the Bank was the uniquely successful show of the Scottish Trust Rhododendrons in New York last May, cosponsored by the New York Chapter and the Scottish Society of New York. The Pollen Bank, like the Seed Exchange, may well be one of the most significant accomplishments of the Society in this decade.

In early April our Executive Secretary of the past 4 years, Mrs. Bernice Lamb, accepted a new position which, for her, offered greater opportunities. There can be no doubt that the office of Executive Secretary is a vital one in our organization. Most of the activities of our National office revolve about the central core of the Executive Secretary. We are appreciative of the part Mrs. Lamb has played in the functioning of this key office. Under the uniquely capable leadership of Mr. Curt Huey and his superb Long-Range Planning Committee, I am delighted to report that the responsibility for office of Executive Secretary now rests in very capable hands, those of Esther Berry. Special recognition must go to Curt Huey and the Long-Range Planning Committee for their prompt and effective action. In addition, for the first time, thanks to Curt and his Committee, the duties of the Executive Secretary have been carefully spelled out and described, and will be added to that valuable document - Policies of the Board of Directors, for which Al Martin, a member of Curt's Committee, deserves high credit.

At this annual meeting we were pleased that a special program was devoted to the American Native Species, arranged by Dr. Fred Galle. Despite their impressive contributions to the rhododendron gardens throughout the world, appreciation of these species has been lagging in American species collectors, as well as interest in their improvement by American breeders. Perhaps as a result of Fred Galle and his Committee, we note what appears to be a resurgence of interest by nurserymen in making these species readily available.

Likewise there can be no doubt that Frank West and his Evergreen Azalea Committee have brought to these delightful rhododendrons the recognition they deserve. As an example of this turn about, an evergreen azalea was awarded the best in show at the recent rhododendron show in Washington, D.C. Surely this is evidence that evergreen azaleas are first-class members of the genus Rhododendron, and is indicative of the increased interest in these plants.

Some of you will undoubtedly attend the Breeder's Roundtable discussions tomorrow. This Roundtable has been a function of the Research Committee. In fact, the Roundtable was almost overlooked by the organizing committee of this annual meeting because the Chairman of the Committee (myself) had neglected to inform them that the Roundtable was not planned by the National Office, but by the local organizing committee jointly with the Research Committee.

The Research Committee, with the acknowledged leadership of J. Judson Brooks, devoted much time to the formation of the Research Foundation, which has already been mentioned.

Twelve research grants at eight universities have been monitored and preliminary reports received. Final reports of the 12 grants will appear in future issues of the Bulletin. This modest research program has stimulated an untold amount of research in other universities, and many unsolicited proposals for additional research support have been received in the past year.

As many of our Society members know, the nomenclature in rhododendrons rests uneasily on the classification made nearly 100 years ago when the knowledge of the genus was exceedingly sparse. As a result, it appears that we are facing an untenable proliferation of new systems of classification. To forestall such potential confusion, an international conference on rhododendron nomenclature is being proposed, under the general leadership of Dr. Roy Taylor of Vancouver. Dr. Taylor and Dr. Dave Leach are jointly planning the conference.

For many years many of us have longed to tap the vast reservoir of rhododendrons in Mainland China. Your Board of Directors have authorized a modest program of exchange through the visit back to his native home in Peoples Republic of China of a well trained plant scientist. It is hoped that contacts can be made and eventually rhododendron seed can be obtained.

Some related research is pertinent at this point. Workers at the National Institutes of Health have found that pigments in azalea flowers are effective inhibitors of an enzyme which causes a type of cataracts in human eyes, especially in persons suffering from diabetes. In cooperation with Mr. S. E. Sanders and the Potomac Valley Chapter over 100 cultivars of white flowered azaleas were evaluated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers at Beltsville for the presence of the effective pigment, and one cultivar was found which was a source. Because the pigments cannot be synthesized, it is conceivable that azaleas may become a potent source of these eye-saving chemicals.

Directors elected for three-year terms were: J. Judson Brooks, Great Lakes Chapter; Ed C. Egan, Tualatin Valley Chapter; John P. Evans, California Chapter; and Richard Murcott, New York Chapter. We believe the membership of the Society who voted in this election had a difficult choice among such superior candidates, as evidenced by the fact that only two votes made the difference in one case. Our thanks go to all nominees for their concern in the affairs and direction of the Society.

In the last year the membership was faced with the problem of change in date in which the dues were to be paid. At the Board meeting in Seattle in March 1976, a firm action was taken to set the closing date for the payment of dues by December 1 of each year. It was emphasized that all dues be received by the National Executive Secretary on that date. The membership roster will be compiled on December 1 of each year, and January Bulletins will be sent accordingly. However, the Editor was empowered to print extra Bulletins for the January issue, and a surcharge of $1.00 added for delinquent members.

As a result of the change in date for dues last December, there were insufficient Bulletins for January 1976. On Thursday, the Board of Directors authorized a reprinting of the January 1976 Bulletin in order that some of our members who unfortunately missed that issue would not have a break in their volumes.

I am pleased to report that the financial status of the Society is sound, although not so sound as Gilbraltar. In fact, our Long-Range Planning Committee has voiced serious concern that rising costs may cause a future erosion unless income can be increased. The current income of the Society is barely capable of maintaining the present level of activities without regard to inflation. To this end, an expanded Society membership becomes at least a major objective. Our membership has not grown significantly in the last decade - new memberships merely replacing old memberships being lost. Let me personally urge each one of you to help assume the responsibility for membership growth, not only for recruiting new members, but especially for renewing memberships of old members. My eighth grade teacher taught me:

"Make new friends,
But keep the old,
The first are silver,
The latter gold."

In summary, your officers and directors must rely on the entire membership for support and cooperation. Ours is a great Society, made up of the best and friendliest people in the United States, Canada, and Denmark, and many points in between and beyond. Personally, I have found it a real challenge to serve this first year as your President. There have been problems and plenty of work and responsibility, but all of these are over and over worth it, because of the tremendous sense of friendship gained from all of the membership. In the words of William Penn, the Founder of this City, "Friendship is a union of spirits, a marriage of hearts, and the bond thereof virtue."