JARS v62n1 - The International Rhododendron Register and Checklist

The International Rhododendron Register and Checklist
Dr. A.C. Leslie, International Rhododendron Registrar
Cambridge, United Kingdom

Every hobbyist craves that ultimate reference work for their particular subject. A definitive account of all the entities that continue to fascinate, delight and intrigue. Somewhere to look up what we know about origins and characteristics, be it matchboxes, vintage wine, old books or in our case cultivars of rhododendrons and azaleas. The International Rhododendron Register and Checklist aims to fulfil this need. It doesn't achieve it and perhaps never will but the RHS is constantly endeavouring to get as near as we can to providing the most authoritative and complete account of all named cultivars in the genus Rhododendron . It is a goal we cannot hope to realize on our own and we need your help to continue to add new accounts and to improve those already listed.
At this point I have a rare opportunity to thank the ARS for its contribution to the registration system over many years. When I first became involved I corresponded with your long-serving registrar Ed Parker and it has been my pleasure latterly to have enjoyed fantastic co-operation over more years than perhaps either of us cares to remember from your current registrar Jay Murray, who has done more than anyone to ensure the Register and Checklist is as good as it is now. The RHS was delighted to be able to award Jay Murray its Loder Rhododendron Cup in 2005 in recognition of her work and it was well-deserved! However we can not rest on our laurels: we continually need to hone the accounts already published and here I must also pay tribute to Walter Schmalscheidt, Bob Stelloh and Albert De Raedt all of whom have contributed a considerable number of additions and corrections in recent years and these are all being added to the database.
But as I say we need your help too. Any Register and Checklist has to keep up to date and try to take account of all names in use. The ideal of course is for every new name to be formally registered by the breeder. This means we would then have an authoritative account of the plant, its origin and originator - all information that can fast become garbled as it moves along the chain of communication! Registration also means we have the chance to ensure that new names are in accord with the international rules as set out in the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants, so that as far as possible duplicate names and those that might otherwise cause confusion are avoided. Indeed this is the primary aim of the international registration system which the International Society for Horticultural Science has promoted since the mid 1950s. So if you are naming new rhododendrons or azaleas get a form from Jay Murray or myself and let us have the facts about your cultivars for the Register.
That is the ideal and is what we strive for. But we all know that the world is not ideal and some plants get named and introduced without reference to the, admittedly voluntary, registration system. This is why in practice we produce a Register and Checklist. Once a name is in print the Checklist at least will need to take account of it, since if a name is in use it would be unhelpful to allow it to be taken up for another cultivar. Getting the information we need about these unregistered plants can be like drawing blood from a stone and all sorts of excuses are proffered for not providing it - from "I'm too busy now to deal with this" (well yes I know only too well how hectic a nurseryman's life can be) to "I'm not sure it's really good enough" (in which case would it not have been better not to have named it in the first place!). So perhaps there is a little bit of education we need to undertake about only naming plants that are really worthwhile: even if you only name things "informally" these names have a habit of "getting out" and once they are in circulation they pose possible confusion should that same name enter the Register, in ignorance of the earlier use, attached to another plant.
So please, if you get a request to provide information about a plant try to help us to help you and other enthusiasts who share your passion for these plants, if you can. Even if the plant did not originate with you it can be helpful to know where you obtained it so the trail can be followed back to the originator; if the trail has gone cold then any data you can offer us is helpful so at least we know a little about what the plant you have under that name looks like. Indeed don't wait to be prompted! If you see something is missing from the Register and Checklist, or is incomplete or inaccurate then take the initiative to put it right!
Knowing what information to pass on can be a problem, especially as regards describing the plant, if you are not used to doing this sort of thing. Just where do you start, what is relevant? Well we try to help you as much as possible in this regard and provide a form which prompts you for the characters that are likely to be most useful and Jay Murray can also provide you with a crib sheet to help explain some of the character states to choose from when describing such things as shapes of flowers and leaves. Suggestions as to how this could be improved to give us better results are always welcome! In the ideal world each application to register a plant would be accompanied by a full description with standard colour chart references and either an herbarium specimen or a good quality colour image. Where some element of this looks like being the hurdle that defeats you then do not worry, as only some form of description is compulsory for registration although everything else is deeply desirable. To put it bluntly something is better than nothing.
Having a comprehensive International Register and Checklist is of value and use to anyone with an interest is a group of plants. There is nothing more frustrating than reading a piece of work about some cultivars and then going to look them up and finding there is no account of them. Just as bad is finding that a plant you saw and liked in a friend's garden, when ordered from a nursery turns out to be something else, but with the same name: it happens! The registration system aims to try and prevent this and where this has not been successful at least to bring to your attention where some caution is needed.
Most of you will be aware that the second edition of the International Rhododendron Register and Checklist was published by the RHS in 2004 and annual supplements have been published since then. The information is contained in a database and the Society is intending to make this database available on its website as soon as possible, so making the information much more freely available. This will undoubtedly help us too as more of you will have the chance to access it and contribute to its future development. I will be certain to let you know as soon as this facility is available.

Dr. Leslie can be contacted at:
Dr. A.C. Leslie
109 York Street
Cambridge CB1 2PZ, United Kingdom