JARS v55n1 - The New Kurume Azaleas

The New Kurume Azaleas
Deborah Sauer
Chester, Virginia

Finally, after a 12-inch snowfall, moderate ice storm and single-digit temperatures, April 2000 arrived with daffodils, camellias and forsythia. And, sure enough, there were swelling buds on the new Kurume azaleas, with incredible blooms on the way in our Virginia garden. The new Kurumes are the early bloomers, beginning about April 2nd, and then fading around the last week in April when the other azaleas are alive with color. The new Kurume "patch" is located across from the old Kurumes, providing an interesting contrast in hybridizing concepts in Japan - the new hybrids are much more delicate and complex, perhaps reflecting a change in times and needs in Japan. These plants are "specimen" plants and deserve close observation with keen attention to colors, shapes and patterns.

In 1976 and 1978, Drs. John Creech, and Frederick Meyers, along with Sylvester March, traveled to the Kurume Branch, Vegetable and Ornamental Research Station, Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan, for the purpose of collecting fifty varieties of Kurume azaleas. These were reported to be the finest Kurumes available. The U.S.D.A., National Arboretum, released thirty-three of these hybrid azalea cultivars in the fall of 1983 to cooperating nurserymen and arboreta for propagation and distribution. Fortunately, for the Sauer garden, George Harding in Gaithersburg, Maryland, was one of the recipients of the collection. In 1988, George wanted to relocate the new Kurumes to our garden to provide another source for these beautiful azaleas. For several weeks, the plant moving routine went something like this: jump in station wagon early Saturday morning, stop for fried chicken, arrive in Gaithersburg about noon, eat lunch, dig plants, stuff into back of car, collapse with a Jack Daniels (black) about 4 p.m., stroll leisurely through garden until 6 p.m., eat dinner at local diner, swap lies until 8 p.m., drive to Chester, arriving about 11 p.m., then lights out. Planting took place early the next morning. Eleven years later, the plants are alive and well, thriving in our climate, under pines, in a woodland garden.

'Yoro' is one of the earliest to bloom, an upright plant habit, single, pure white blooms, with a slightly down-turned head. The stamens are one-and-a-half times longer than the petals, making the plant appear a delicate, soft white from a distance.

'Gunki'* is predominately white single, with bright pinkish-red striping. This particular plant has a branch of solid red near the ground, which most of the literature advises growers to "cut out," but I personally find this so beautiful that I can't stand to cut it!

'Tamabeni'*, 'Aratama' and 'Hino-tsukasa' are some of the few solid colors, clear, vivid reds, all with single flowers on plants with upright habits. The clear red offers a nice contrast to the green foliage. The flowers are relatively small, measuring about 1 to 1¾ inches (2.5 to 4.5 cm) across.

'Tennyo-no-mai'* is a great plant, with arching branches which resemble a fighting dragon. Each single bloom is a delicate pink with a darker rose-colored border. The pale yellow throat gives the plant the typical quintessential delicate qualities that make the new Kurumes so special. There are so many flowers, it is difficult to see green leaves on the branches. One of my all-time favorites.

But then I see 'Kunimitsu'* with its hose-in-hose to semi-double flowers, white throat with strong purplish-red margins, equally as beautiful. It is impossible to capture the soft, fluffy detail of the plant. The delicate red edging is absolutely charming. If one gets tired of looking up to 5-6 foot plants, then 'Fujiasahi' is a welcome relief. This ground hugger is the answer with white petals, edged with light pink, hose-in-hose with ruffled edges. The buds are very attractive with a two-toned appearance.

The most unusual color in the new Kurumes probably belongs to 'Rikyugonomi'* (a great Crossword or Scrabble name - don't ask me to pronounce this correctly). It is a pink with a grey overcast to it, very pale throat, darker blotch and hose-in-hose. Most unusual color - no other azalea in the garden can match it. It has an upright habit and it is extremely floriferous (in other words, bountiful flowers).

To add to the confusion, there is 'Wakaebisu' (yes, there are two of them), a moderate red and white bi-color, with reddish color on the tips of the petals, fading to white. The plant habit tends to be low and spreading.

Every plant deserves, and receives, special attention in the spring - it is a renewing experience and pleasure to be able to see the delicate shading, colors and patterns. One never tires of them.

How many of us have stuffed plants in every inch of garden space, leaving little, if any, room for new introductions? This means decisions have to be made. In our case, we had to fell a tree or two to make room for these special azaleas. For you readers out there, dig up an old plant, have a "yard sale," make a deal with your neighbors, throw seeds in someone's yard, sneak plants next door at night, but be sure someone in your area has some of these azaleas to share and be shared every spring. If none of the above is a solution, then plan a trip to our place and join me. Always room for one more.

Recent Kurume Hybrid Introductions from Japan

'Aratama' (NA 45406)**: vivid red, darker blotch on upper petals, 1¾" (4.5 cm).

'Atsumizakura'* (NA 45404): pale light pink with purplish white throat, hose-in-hose, 1-1½" (2.5-3 cm).

R. 'Atsumizakura'
Photo by David Sauer

'Aya-hime' (NA 45405): strong purplish red to paler throat, with darker blotches on the upper petals, 1" (2.5 cm).

'Ezoishiki'* (NA 45415): nearly pure white with red stripes, 1" (2.5 cm).

'Fujiasahi'* (NA 45438): strong purplish pink ruffled edges, hose-in-hose, 1½" (3 cm), stamens longer than petals.

'Fukuhiko' (NA 45440): variable from strong purplish red to light purplish pink, striated with strong purplish red stripes, 1½" (3 cm).

'Gunki'* (NA 45422): white, with deep purplish red stripes on upper petals, ruffled edges, 1" (2.5 cm), stamens half as long as petals.

R. 'Gunki'
Photo by David Sauer

'Hakuo-nishiki'* (NA 45436): yellowish white with dark red stripes, hose-in-hose, 1¾" (4.5 cm).

'Haru-no-sato' (NA 45435): deep purplish pink, lighter throat, darker blotch on upper petals, 1" (2.5 cm), stamens shorter than petals.

'Hino-tsukasa' (NA 45437): vivid strong red, 1" (2.5 cm), stamens longer than petals.

R. 'Hino-tsukasa'
Photo by David Sauer

'Ima-murasaki'* (NA 45408): strong reddish purplish, darker blotch, tube lighter red, 1½" (3 cm), stamens slightly longer than petals.

'Itten' (NA 45410): white, some with purplish pink edges to a white throat, 1- 1½" (2.5-3 cm), stamens very short - ¼" (0.5 cm) long.

'Iwatokagami' (NA 45411): deep pink, throat white, 1½" (3 cm).

'Kagura'* (NA 45419): strong purplish pink, whitish throat, darker blotch, hose-in-hose, 1" (2.5 cm), stamens slightly longer than petals.

'Kara-nishiki' (NA 45420): deep pink to strong purplish red, with darker stripes, 1½" (3 cm).

'Konohana'* (NA 45425): deep yellowish pink with dark purplish blotches, 1" (2.5 cm).

'Kunimitsu'* (NA 45423): strong purplish red, white center, hose-in-hose to semi-double, 1-1½" (2.5-3 cm), some stamens polypetaloid.

'Maya-fujin'* (NA 45443): deep purplish red edges, darker blotch, 1" (2.5 cm).

'Oogocho'* (NA 45418): strong purplish red, darker blotch variable, hose-in-hose, to semi-double, 1¾" (4.5 cm).

R. 'Oogocho'
Photo by David Sauer

'Oouchiyama'* (NA 45416): strong reddish purple, whitish throat, darker blotch, 1" (2.5 cm).

'Rikyugonomi'* (NA 45450): moderate red, very pale throat, darker blotch, hose-in-hose, 1" (2.5 cm).

'Shizu-no-mai'* (NA 45426): pale red, dark stripes, hose-in-hose, 1" (2.5 cm), stamens very short.

'Tago-no-ura'* (NA 45429): white, very faint yellowish blotch or absent, hose-in-hose, 1¾" (4.5 cm), stamens nearly as long as petals.

'Tamabeni'* (NA 45427): vivid red, darker blotch, 1" (2.5 cm), stamens nearly as long as petals.

'Tennyo-no-mai'* (NA 45430): deep purplish pink, whitish throat, dark pink blotch, 1¾" (4.5 cm), stamens longer than petals.

R. 'Tennyo-no-mai'
Photo by David Sauer

'Tokoharu' (NA 45433): white, strong purplish red striping, hose-in-hose, 1" (2.5 cm).

R. 'Tokoharu'
Photo by David Sauer

'Tokonatsu'* (NA 45432): white, strong purplish red stripes, 1" (2.5 cm), stamens longer than petals.

'Tsuki-minoen'* (NA 45431): deep purplish pink edges, slightly ruffled, white throat, 1½" (3 cm), stamens as long or slightly longer than petals.

'Usuyukari'* (NA 45413): strong purple edges changing to white, throat white, 1" (2.5 cm), stamens longer than petals.

'Yomeinishiki'* (NA 45446): white, purplish pink stripes, nearly white throat, with dark blotch, 1" (2.5 cm).

'Yoro' (NA 45447): white, 1" (2.5 cm), stamens 1½ times longer than petals.

'Yoshi-migatake' (NA 45445): deep purplish pink edges, white throat, no blotching, 1" (2.5 cm).

'Wakaebisu' (NA 45449): moderate red, very pale throat, dark blotch, 1" (2.5 cm).

* Name is unregistered.
** The numbers refer to the National Arboretum collection.

Deborah and David Sauer are members of the Middle Atlantic Chapter.