QBARS - v31n1 The Rare R. albiflorum

The Rare R. albiflorum
Harold Greer, Eugene, Oregon

R. albiflorum
R. albiflorum
Photo by Harold Greer

Native only to the northwest part of North America, R. albiflorum is a rare and unusual rhododendron. It is in the peak of its glory and splendor in mid-July on the high slopes of the Washington and Oregon Cascades, with mature plants six to eight feet tall.
The flowers are a creamy or greenish white and occur along the stems in groups of one to four. They are up to one inch long and appear after the leaves. The plant is deciduous, with light and shiny green leaves up to three inches long.
The only member of the Albiflorum Series, it is an elepidote, with its closest relatives perhaps belonging to the Azalea Series, subseries Luteum. While I do not know of a successful cross made with R. albiflorum , and I have tried many crosses, what an interesting parent it would make. Imagine an Exbury type azalea with flowers all along the stems. There are more problems, however, since R. albiflorum is almost impossible to grow, with no commercial sources available. I have tried to grow it from cuttings and seed several times. Plants grow slowly for a while and then weaken and die. I have never seen a plant flower in cultivation.
Growing in wet places at higher altitudes near timberline, R. albiflorum must receive something it does not get when planted in a garden. Possibly it is the constant source of flowing, oxygen-rich water which we cannot duplicate.
R. albiflorum will never be a successful commercial rhododendron, but the patient collector or hybridizer should try it since there is promise.