JARS v50n3 - Vireyas Are Not Rhododendrons, Part II

Vireyas Are Not Rhododendrons, Part II
Dr. Richard W. Chaikin
Falmouth, Massachusetts

In the article "Vireyas Are Not Rhododendrons," published in the Fall 1994 issue of the Journal, this author stressed that, culturally speaking, vireyas should not be treated like ordinary rhododendrons. That is, vireyas should be grown as if they were orchids, in a loose well draining mix of bark and perlite, bark and Oregon pumice stone, or bark and coral. The clear message was that most vireya deaths are from too much watering and, most of all, too much water retention. Hopefully, the title of the article did not confuse any reader with the real message.

In this Part II, we would like to discuss the frank discrimination that occurs in the ARS when dealing with vireyas. To illustrate this, one merely has to review the 1995 fall foliage show held at Waltham, Mass. I had heard that this type of discrimination and bigotry has been prevalent on the West Coast, but I had never before experienced it here in liberal Massachusetts. The speaker for the evening in question, from the West Coast, exclaimed that the fall foliage show is a wonderful idea, one he will glorify out West. The purpose of the show, as it was explained to this author, was that one should be involved with more than flowers, which last only two or three weeks. This discussion has been going on for many years, but this was the only conscious effort to my knowledge to put this idea into practice in this manner.

Basically, according to the rules of this, the second show of its kind here, or at least according to the pre-show rules, the entries were to be divided into lepidotes and elepidotes, and then subdivided into various categories such as smaller than 4-inch leaves, larger than 6-inch leaves, etc. Now, reading the pre-show rules, one would think that it would be a fair and equitable contest, with no hint of discrimination or bias. It appeared to be quite straightforward and simple. All one had to know was if the leaves had scales, the shape of the leaves, the size of the leaves, etc.

However, one was immediately jolted to another possibility when, upon entering with some vireya trusses, one was greeted by no less than the chapter president saying, "These were grown outdoors?" Later, it continued. Our esteemed District Director, long known for her impartiality, knowledge of show and chapter rules and regulations, and immense knowledge of the genus Rhododendron , exclaimed that these trusses were not to be classified into the lepidote section, as they were vireyas. Are vireyas not rhododendrons? Are vireyas not lepidotes? Do vireyas have scales, or not? She objected to the possibility of my vireya leaves competing with the leaves and foliage of outdoor rhododendrons, the real rhododendrons. Finally, the powers that be did agree to classify the vireyas according to the pre-show rules, and I thought the matter was settled.

Well, you can imagine my surprise when I entered the room after the judging. In their infinite wisdom, the judges had created a special class for the "genus" vireya! It is true that two of the plants did have flowers, but a third did not. Nevertheless, it was classified against the flowered plants and not the specimens with no flowers. There were only three entries in that class in total. Thus, when the judges saw that these three plants were vireyas, and that they were entered into Class 3 and Class 4, they immediately reverted back to the basic discriminatory practice of segregating the vireyas into their own ghetto, apart from the rest of the entries.

I guess one has to laugh, though. Amongst the many judges were some from the species study group. I imagine that now they may be embarrassed to realize that my fourth vireya, R. rugosum var. rugosum , was also present in its fine leafy glory. As any vireyaholic knows, this plant has incredible foliage. Well, to my surprise, this entry was not declassified into the vireya group and did win a ribbon against its true competitors. It was classified as a lepidote with leaves smaller than 4 inches, which was as it should have been! My other leafy entry, R. intranervatum , with veins on the top side of the leaf, was entered up against those in flower in the vireya class. These two foliage entries were entered because each has incredible foliage, one a beautiful leaf, the other an unusual leaf. I was thinking of bringing in the smallest rhododendron leaf discovered to date. It is one-half the size of the winter leaves of R. kiusianum , or about 3/16 inch. It is a very rare vireya, less than six grow in the United States.

I guess what I am really trying to state is that if a plant has a flower, in this the fall foliage show, it still should be judged by the same standards as the others - that is, the foliage. The flower should be ignored and the foliage should be judged. After all, fall foliage does mean foliage. It is as simple as that. Since it is a published fact that over one-third of all rhododendron species are vireyas, it seems ludicrous not to include them according to the published classification of rhododendrons, especially when judging foliage.

So in conclusion, I wish to state that not only are vireyas to be considered not rhododendrons because of their cultural demands, as discussed in Part I, now they are to be considered not rhododendrons because in Massachusetts they must be grown indoors. Curious what will happen if I ever try to enter some of my maddeniis into a show. Will they be lumped into the vireyas class because they grow indoors, or will they be lepidotes, or what? If history amounts to anything, the maddeniis will be a separate class so as not to compete with "real" rhododendron foliage. Foliage should be foliage; there should be no question, problem or confusion.

Dr. Chaikin is a member of the Massachusetts Chapter.