JARS v53n1 - The Fifth International Rhododendron Species Symposium

The Fifth International Rhododendron Species Symposium
Steve Hootman
Federal Way, Washington

For Rhododendron enthusiasts worldwide and those attending the 1999 Annual Convention of the American Rhododendron Society, a special event is planned which should satisfy even the most inquisitive of minds. The Fifth International Rhododendron Species Symposium (IRSS) will take place on April 27-29 just prior to the ARS Annual Convention in Bellevue, Wash. The previous four meetings of the IRSS were held in: 1978 at the New York Botanical Garden; 1982 at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Scotland; 1985 in Fife, Wash., near the Rhododendron Species Foundation (RSF); and 1988 in Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia. In the ten years since the last IRSS, our knowledge of the genus and its taxonomy has grown considerably. This can be attributed to the increased use of our ever-improving technology, such as DNA sequence analysis, and the fact that many of the "rhododendron-rich" areas of Asia, closed to foreigners for decades, have been opened for botanical exploration. In addition, there has been a tremendous amount of work published recently by Chinese botanists who, of course, have access to regions and plants we know little or nothing about.

With the cooperation and financial backing of the RSF, a Symposium Committee was formed and a program began to take shape. Seeking international expertise in a wide variety of fields related to the study of rhododendrons, the committee invited and received positive responses from experts in the United States, Great Britain and the People's Republic of China. These experts will present their ideas and findings on such diverse topics as current taxonomy, DNA studies, rhododendrons on limestone, and recent explorations and introductions. Speakers for this prestigious event include:

David Chamberlain , Ph.D., is a world authority on the genus Rhododendron and an ARS Gold Medal recipient. As a research scientist at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, he has published numerous papers on the genus including monographs on subgenus Hymenanthes and subgenus Tsutsusi . Dr. Chamberlain is a world-respected taxonomist and field botanist who has participated in over a dozen expeditions into the rhododendron-rich regions of Asia.

Kenneth Cox is a well-known author and expert on the genus. Mr. Cox has led numerous rhododendron hunting expeditions into China and the Himalayas and is also quite knowledgeable about rhododendrons in cultivation. His recent trips to Tibet have clarified many puzzling questions concerning the distribution, ecology, and taxonomy of the rhododendrons growing in that remote region. Mr. Cox is a third-generation plant explorer and runs Glendoick Gardens with his father Peter.

Amy Denton , Ph.D., is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences at the University of California, Riverside. She is using DNA to trace the recent evolutionary history of closely related Rhododendron species, and to study historical relationships among populations within a single species. Dr. Denton believes that using DNA sequences to gain a better understanding of patterns of migration and hybridization may help settle some unresolved issues in Rhododendron taxonomy.

Benjamin Hall , Ph.D., is a professor of botany and genetics at the University of Washington in Seattle. Dr. Hall is also chair of the ARS Research Committee and has made three trips into China and Tibet to observe rhododendrons in the wild. Dr. Hall and his student Amy Denton have used DNA sequences in selected groups of rhododendrons to study the evolutionary history and population dynamics of R. macrophyllum .

Sun Hang , Ph.D., is a Director of the Department of Phytotaxonomy and Phytogeography at the Kunming Institute of Botany in Yunnan, China. Dr. Sun has numerous publications on the phytogeography and taxonomy of a wide variety of plants and has spent months in the field studying the plant associations of the Rhododendron-rich Tsangpo Gorge region of southeastern Tibet. He also serves as an English interpreter and botanical guide on plant hunting expeditions.

Steve Hootman is the Co-Executive Director and Curator of the Rhododendron Species Foundation in Federal Way, Wash. Steve is responsible for the integrity and management of the RSF's world-class collection of species and has participated in four plant hunting expeditions into China and the Himalayas which have produced a surprising number of new introductions.

A new variety of R.
phaeochrysum was discovered in Tibet in 1997
A new variety of R. phaeochrysum was discovered in Tibet in 1997 by
the author and expedition members Kenneth Cox and Peter Cox. The
variety, yet to be named, represents recent introductions to the
Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden.
Photo by Steve Hootman

Kathleen Kron , Ph.D., was one of the first plant systematists to incorporate the study of DNA sequences in her approach to Rhododendron classification. As an associate professor of biology at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., Dr. Kron's research interests include the study of Rhododendron diversity and evolutionary history using both morphology and molecular data. Her many publications include a monograph of the subgenus Pentanthera .

David Rankin , Ph.D., is a professor of chemistry at the University of Edinburgh. He has participated in several expeditions into China where he was intrigued by his observations of rhododendrons apparently growing on limestone. Dr. Rankin's research on soil chemistry in the field and in the lab is beginning to provide some possible solutions to this puzzling phenomenon. He is also working on the use of leaf waxes in rhododendrons to determine the relationships among certain species.

This historical event will take place at the Double Tree Hotel in Bellevue, Wash., utilizing the same facilities as the ARS Annual Convention. The Symposium opens on Tuesday evening with registration and coffee hour at 6:30 p.m. social hour and poster session designed to provide an informal forum for research projects involving rhododendrons. The evening will be capped off with a closing dinner and lecture by Dr. David Chamberlain. This Symposium closes on Thursday with an extended and in-depth tour of the garden and collections of the Rhododendron Species Foundation and Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection.

Anderson garden, Enumclaw, WA
The Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden,
Federal Way, Wash.
Photo by Steve Hootman

Do not miss this rare and exciting chance to hear and speak with some of the world experts on our favorite group of plants.