JARS v38n1 - President Roosevelt

President Roosevelt
Arthur W. Headlam, Bentleigh, Australia

President Roosevelt, a very popular and widely grown rhododendron in Australia, is well represented in the National Rhododendron Garden at Olinda, as well as in many private gardens in the Dandenong Ranges. Its white to blush pink flowers, strikingly margined with crimson, are carried in a conical shaped truss and are set off to advantage against the deep green foliage with yellow green variegation.

R. 'President Roosevelt' truss
R. 'President Roosevelt truss'
Photo by Arthur W. Headlam

It is said to be a sport of 'Limbaturn', whose flowers are identical in color, but whose leaves are plain dark green. The introduction of President Roosevelt has been somewhat obscure, but exhaustive inquiries have thrown some light on its origin. Williams' Nursery at Olinda advise that this rhododendron was imported by them from Charles Mesman of Boskoop, Holland, in 1930, in whose catalog it was listed as President Roosevelt. It was apparently not popular in England and Europe where it does not appear to be grown, presumably because of its early flowering habit and consequent frost damage, but it is listed in some catalogs on the west coast of the U.S.A., where climatic conditions are more favorable.
It is not uncommon on many plants in the National Rhododendron and other gardens at Olinda, for some branches to revert to the plain deep green foliage of 'Limbatum', in fact, on some occasions there appears to be more dark green foliage on a particular plant than variegated foliage, and on isolated occasions, the whole plant has been known to revert. The variegated foliage with paler yellow green markings, usually along the midrib, has been accepted as the normal, and branches without variegation just do not look right.
Other features contributing to the popularity of President Roosevelt are its ease of propagation and characteristic of flowering at an early age.
In a recent review of personalities of World War II, President Roosevelt was being discussed and mention was made that he was President of the U.S.A., 1933/1945. Something seemed amiss, a rhododendron could hardly be named for him three years before his appointment. On checking the dates in my dictionary, I found them to be correct, but the very next entry was for Theodore Roosevelt, President of the U.S.A., 1901/1909. Could this be the explanation and this rhododendron had in fact been named for Theodore Roosevelt?
The only relevant entries in David G. Leach's Rhododendrons of the World are:
'Limbatum' arboreum hybrid from Belgium, cultivated by Standish and Noble before 1870. White or pale blush, margined crimson.
'President Roosevelt' - petunia violet, black blotch.
The last chance of solving this problem appeared to be a request for a check of the International Register, and a reply from the Registration Officer, Dr. A.C. Leslie states:
"The Rhododendron President Roosevelt with variegated foliage and red flowers fading to a white center, has never been registered. Only recently I have added the name, as an unregistered entry, having noticed it in a Bovees Nursery (USA) catalogue. I cannot therefore help you very much.
There is another 'President Roosevelt' listed, a petunia violet with a black blotch, raised pre-1958, so unless a reference clearly indicates which form is intended, one must be careful! There is also an Indian Azalea of the same name, introduced by van Houtee (Belgium) in 1912."
This would appear to indicate that the rhododendron 'President Roosevelt' and the Indian Azalea mentioned were both named for Theodore Roosevelt.
The 'President Roosevelt' described as petunia violet with a black blotch, and the Azalea of the same name, do not appear to be in cultivation in Australia.

R. 'President Roosevelt'
R. 'President Roosevelt'
Photo by Arthur W. Headlam