JARS v62n1 - Rhododendron of the Year Awards, 2008

Rhododendron of the Year Awards, 2008
Ray Smith
ARS Plant Awards Committee Co-chair
Glenwood, Maryland

The ARS Plant Awards Committee has selected the Rhododendron of the Year awards for 2008. Because of climate differences, the committee selected plants for seven regions: an elepidote, a lepidote, a deciduous azalea and an evergreen azalea. The Vireya/Swisher Award is given to a vireya rhododendron.
The first criterion was that the plant perform well in the region, even for a novice. That plant had to exhibit good form, foliage and flowers, to prove itself cold and heat hardy for the region, and to show resistance to pests and diseases. In addition, the plant had to be available in the nursery trade and the name registered with the ARS.

Northeastern Region
'Capistrano' : Elepidote ('Hindustan' (s) X {[( R. catawbiense , white-flowered x ( R. fortunei ssp. discolor x Fabia Group)] x ('Russell Harmon' x 'Goldsworth Orange')} x 'Golden Gala'). Thought by many to be the best hardy yellow elepidote in general distribution; has a full, dome-shaped, pale greenish yellow truss in late-midseason; a mounded plant with lush, deep green leaves, growing more wide than tall; to 5' in ten years and hardy to -15ºF; Leach hybrid.

'Landmark' : Lepidote ('Counterpoint' X Carolina Rose Group). Seen from afar, this is the elusive red lepidote; closer observation shows the compact trusses of wavy-edged flowers to be purplish-red; an upright grower (4' in ten years), covered with flowers in the early spring and excellent bronze-purple color in winter; hardy to -20ºF and very sun-tolerant; another great Mezitt hybrid.

R. atlanticum : Deciduous Azalea. The coast azalea, native to the coastal plain of the eastern United States from Delaware to Georgia; midseason bloom with very fragrant white flowers, often flushed with pink or purple; stoloniferous, sending out shoots underground to form new plants; a mounding plant with distinctive bluish-green foliage, growing to 3-4' in ten years, hardy to -15ºF.

'Linda Stuart' : Evergreen Azalea ('Blaauw's Pink' X unknown seedling). A striking hose-in-hose picotee flower on an upright growing plant; cream center edged with salmon-pink; 4-5' tall in ten years, hardy to -15ºF; will take hot summers and cold winters; a Leon Yavorsky hybrid.

R. 'Capistrano' R. 'Landmark'
Elepidote: 'Capistrano'
Photo by Dennis McKiver
Lepidote: 'Landmark'
Photo by R.W. Mezitt
R. atlanticum R. 'Linda Stuart'
Deciduous Azalea: R. atlanticum
Photo by Don Hyatt
Evergreen Azalea: 'Linda Stuart'
Photo by John and Sally Perkins

Mid Atlantic Region
'Mist Maiden' : Elepidote (selection from R. yakushimanum ). Large apple blossom pink flowers emerge from deep-pink buds and fade to a snowy white; a very hardy (-25°F) plant, and deer resistant due to the thick brown indumentum on the underside of the dark green foliage; introduced by David Leach, who felt it was a pure yak; most observers, however, feel it is a hybrid, probably a yak smirnowii cross.

'Weston's Aglo' : Lepidote ( R. minus , compact selection X pink-flowered R. dauricum hybrid). Sister seedling of 'Olga Mezitt,' sharing many fine qualities with its sibling; early blooming and sun-tolerant, having light pink flowers with a reddish throat; glossy foliage turns bronze in winter; very hardy (-25ºF) and compact plant, growing to 4-6' in 10 years; a Mezitt hybrid.

'White Lightning' : Deciduous Azalea (natural R. arborescens hybrid). A natural hybrid found growing in the wild near Franklin, North Carolina, by Clarence Towe; very fragrant, large white flowers with a yellow blotch in early to midsummer; dark green foliage on a dense and compact plant, reaching 4' tall in ten years.

'Dream' : Evergreen Azalea ( R. simsii X R. mucronatum ). Large wavy-edged blooms (up to 3” across) of a strong purple-pink color, blotched with darker spots; early season bloomer with a spreading growth habit up to 6' tall; hardy to -5 or -10ºF; a Glenn Dale Hybrid by Ben Morrison.

R. 'Mist Maiden' R. 'Weston's Aglo'
Elepidote: 'Mist Maiden'
Photo by Harold Greer
Lepidote: 'Weston's Aglo'
Photo by Jeff Hooper
R. 'White Lightning' R. 'Dream'
Deciduous Azalea: 'White Lightning'
Photo by John and Sally Perkins
Evergreen Azalea: 'Dream'
Photo by Harold Greer

Southeastern Region
'Vivacious' : Elepidote ('America' X 'Doctor Ross'). Has exceptional color and superb foliage; strong bright red, wavy-edged blooms in ball-shaped trusses of ten or more flowers; a late midseason bloomer that is hardy to -10º F and grows broader than tall, to 3' by 4' wide in ten years; a Forster hybrid from Vineland Station Horticultural Research Institute of Ontario.

'Olga Mezitt' : Lepidote ( R. minus , compact selection X pink-flowered R. dauricum hybrid). In spring, the plant is transformed by small tight balls of clear pink covering every limb; blooms early, a little later than the PJM Group, often avoiding that late frost; in fall, the bright light green summer leaves turn a beautiful mahogany adding great color to the winter garden; an upright grower, reaching 5-6' in ten years; hardy to -15ºF and sun tolerant - especially valuable in gardens without much shade; a Mezitt hybrid.

R. austrinum : Deciduous Azalea. Known variously as the Flame Azalea, Florida Azalea, or the Florida Flame Azalea; native to the Florida panhandle and nearby areas of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi; very fragrant blooms in shades of yellow, gold, and orange in the early spring, about the same time as the leaves appear; has an open growth habit and is one of the easiest of the native azaleas to grow; reaches 10' in the wild, but will often remain smaller in the garden, with a spread about half its height; hardy to -15º F, yet the most heat tolerant of the native azaleas; this heat tolerance makes it valuable for hybridizers and it is often crossed with other deciduous azaleas to increase their heat tolerance.

'Elsie Lee' : Evergreen Azalea ('Desiree' X 'Rosebud'). A tall, upright grower that can be quite open in shade; hardy to -15º F; the late midseason bloomer has 2-3”, semi-double, frilly bluish-lavender flowers; a great plant, hardy and showy, and an exceptional parent in hybridizing; a Shammarello hybrid.

R. 'Vivacious' R. 'Olga Mezitt'
Elepidote: 'Vivacious'
Photo by George Hibben
Lepidote: 'Olga Mezitt'
Photo by Richard Billings
R. austrinum R. 'Elsie Lee'
Deciduous Azalea: R. austrinum
Photo by John and Sally Perkins
Evergreen Azalea: 'Elsie Lee'
Photo by Don Hyatt

Great Lakes Region
'Janet Blair' : Elepidote (unknown). A vigorous and good-looking plant having wavy-edged, light pink flowers with a green flare on upper petal; cold hardy (-15ºF) and heat tolerant and an excellent parent plant; well-branched with a mounding habit and glossy green foliage, growing to 6' in ten years; a Leach introduction of a Dexter hybrid formerly known as 'John Wister.'

'Olga Mezitt' : Lepidote ( R. minus , compact selection X pink-flowered R. dauricum hybrid). In spring, the plant is transformed by small tight balls of clear pink covering every limb; blooms early, a little later than the PJM Group, often avoiding that late frost; in fall, the bright light green summer leaves turn a beautiful mahogany adding great color to the winter garden; an upright grower, reaching 5-6' in ten years; hardy to -15ºF and sun tolerant—especially valuable in gardens without much shade; a Mezitt hybrid.

'Arneson Gem' : Deciduous Azalea. ('C.B. van Nes' x 'Koster's Brilliant Red') X unknown). Large, lightly scented golden flowers edged with bright, glowing orange emerge from strong red buds; a vigorous, yet compact grower, to 3' x 4' in 12 years; makes a striking display with its mid-season blooms; hardy to -20ºF; an Arneson hybrid.

'Stewartstonian' : Evergreen Azalea (parentage unknown). A tough, sun-tolerant, upright plant growing to 5' in ten years; an early bloomer with 2” orange-red flowers; the glossy dark green foliage turns wine red, making a colorful addition to the winter garden; hardy to -15ºF, this Gable hybrid also makes an excellent bonsai; RHS Award of Merit, 1975.

R. 'Janet Blair' R. 'Olga Mezitt'
Elepidote: 'Janet Blair'
Photo by Courtland White
Lepidote: 'Olga Mezitt'
Photo by Richard Billings
R. 'Arneson Gem' R. 'Stewartstonian'
Deciduous Azalea: 'Arneson Gem'
Photo Harold Greer
Evergreen Azalea: 'Stewartstonian'
Photo by Harold Greer

South Central Region
'Grace Seabrook' : Elepidote ('The Honourable Jean Marie de Montague' X R. strigillosum ). A stunning early bright red; one of the first elepidotes to bloom; wonderful very dark green leaves with light indumentum set off the full trusses; shows both parents, with the foliage from the seed parent, the indumentum and color from R. strigillosum ; well-branching plant growing to 4' in 10 years, hardy to -5ºF; a Seabrook hybrid.

PJM Group : Lepidote. ( R. minus Carolinianum Group X R. dauricum Sempervirens Group). Group of plants that is cold hardy (-25ºF) as well as heat and sun tolerant, growing to 4-5' in ten years; small glossy green leaves turn bronze-mahogany in the winter; early, wavy-edged, violet to lavender-purple flowers really glow against the dark winter foliage; numerous forms of this Mezitt hybrid are available.

'My Mary' : Deciduous Azalea.('Nacoochee' X R. austrinum ). Fragrant, ball-shaped trusses of brilliant yellow appear early in the season; a stoloniferous plant with thick dark green leaves and a compact, rounded shape, growing to 4' in ten years; hardy to zone 5 (at least -10ºF); a George Beasley hybrid named for his wife.

'Blaauw's Pink' : Evergreen Azalea (unknown). Small coral hose-in-hose flowers with a darker coral blotch; a very dependable early season bloomer, hardy to -5ºF and growing to 3' in ten years; a Kurume hybrid.

R. 'Grace Seabrook' R. PJM Group
Elepidote: 'Grace Seabrook'
Photo by Dennis McKiver
Lepidote: PJM Group
Photo by Harold Greer
R. 'My Mary' R. 'Blaauw's Pink'
Deciduous Azalea: 'My Mary'
Photo D.C. Royster
Evergreen Azalea: 'Blaauw's Pink'
Photo by Ron Knight

'Marie Starks' : Elepidote. [( R. yakushimanum Exbury form x Fabia red form) X 'Odee Wright']. Funnel-shaped yellow or yellowish-green flowers with a dark red blotch in the throat; an early mid-season bloomer with a ball-shaped truss of up to 18 flowers; a well-branched bush with a spreading habit, growing to 4' in ten years; a Murray hybrid hardy to -10ºF.

'Vibrant Violet' : Lepidote. ( R. impeditum X R. augustinii ). One of the best of the small-leaved purples; vivid violet funnel-shaped flowers with wavy-edged lobes cover the dark green leaves of this dense mounding plant; blooms early and grows to 3' in ten years, hardy to 0°F; Frank Fujioka hybrid.

'Cannon's Double' : Deciduous Azalea ('Corneille' X 'Cecile'). An exceptionally beautiful ball truss of fragrant, double pink and yellow flowers mark this vigorous midseason bloomer; adding to its appeal, the new growth has bronze overtones, much of which is retained through the growing season; an easy grower with an open habit, reaching six to eight feet in height with a spread almost as wide; a Cannon hybrid.

'Girard's Fuchsia' : Evergreen Azalea {('Herbert' x 'Girard's Hot Shot') x 'Sandra Ann'] X 'Sandra Ann'}. An attractive, bushy, plant with deep reddish-purple, ruffled flowers in midseason; a compact grower, reaching 3' in ten years; gorgeous dark red colored foliage adds interest in the winter; hardy to -10°F; Girard hybrid.

R. 'Marie Starks' R. 'Vibrant Violet'
Elepidote: 'Marie Starks'
Photo by Bill McMillan
Lepidote: 'Vibrant Violet'
Photo by Bob George
R. 'Cannon's Double' R. 'Girard's Fuchsia'
Deciduous Azalea: 'Cannon's Double'
Photo by Rosalie Stanley
Evergreen Azalea: 'Girard's Fuchsia'
Photo by Harold Greer

Southwestern Region
'Noyo Chief' : Elepidote ( R. arboretum sp. nilagiricum hybrid). Showy, translucent red, ball-shaped flowers on an outstanding foliage plant; has glossy, deep green indumented leaves that are deeply ribbed; early bloomer growing to 10' in ten years; hardy to 10ºF.

'Ginny Gee' : Lepidote ( R. keiskei prostrate form X R. racemosum ). Flowers in shades of pink and white, fading to white with pale purplish pink mottling at petal edges, totally cover this dense, compact plant in the early spring; heat and drought tolerant with lovely dark maroon winter foliage; dwarf, growing 1-2' in ten years, hardy to 0ºF, a Warren Berg hybrid and recipient of the ARS Superior Plant Award (Northwest) in 1985.

'Mount Saint Helens' : Deciduous Azalea ('Cecile' X un-named Knap Hill azalea). An upright, well-branching plant with beautiful orange-yellow fall foliage; the fragrant large rose-pink flowers with an orange flare are presented in a ball-like truss of 12-15 flowers; hardy to -25ºF, this late-midseason bloomer is a Girard hybrid.

'Ward's Ruby' : Evergreen Azalea (parentage unknown). Dark ruby red flowers with a pure rich color throughout, even including the stamens; glossy dark green leaves on a low-growing Kurume; blooms midseason and hardy to 10ºF.

R. 'Noyo Chief' R. 'Ginny Gee'
Elepidote: 'Noyo Chief'
Photo by Eleanor Philp
Lepidote: 'Ginny Gee'
Photo by Ron Knight
R. 'Mount Saint Helens' R. 'Ward's Ruby'
Deciduous Azalea: R. 'Mount Saint Helens'
Photo by Richard Billings
Evergreen Azalea: 'Ward's Ruby'
Photo by Sonja Nelson

'Great Scent-sation' : ( R. konori X R. lochiae ). A good bloomer, with large, very fragrant, deep purplish-pink flowers fading at the throat; 5-8 tubular funnel-shaped flowers per truss; an upright shrub with large leaves, growing to 3'.

R. 'Great Scent-sation'
Vireya: 'Great Scent-sation'
Photo by Sherla Bertelmann