QBARS - v7n2 One Half Century Old Rhododendron

One Half Century Old Rhododendron
Rudolph Henny

Hardy rhododendron hybrid, uncared for fifty years, in bloom 1952
Fig. 23.  A hardy rhododendron hybrid, uncared
for fifty years, in bloom 1952
Henny photo

I realize that a mere fifty years in the life of a rhododendron is hardly worth mentioning when one reads and hears of plants three and four times that age growing in gardens in England and elsewhere.

Many circumstances that influence a situation may make the behavior of a plant noteworthy even though there appears but little other merit by comparison. The photo (Fig. 22) was taken of a rhododendron growing in a cemetery two miles east of Brooks, Oregon. This particular plant is now under fifteen feet in height, and somewhat less broad, and was planted just fifty years ago. To establish some of the history of the plant was easy, for the first person encountered there during the blooming period two years ago knew many of the facts. The plant was less than two feet high in 1903 when originally set out, and has received absolutely no care since. How the plant ever established itself without even a bucketful of water during the dry summers that followed certainly bespeaks of hardiness.

The Parish at Brooks was dissolved nearly forty years ago, and the cemetery relapsed into an almost impenetrable spot, overgrown with briars and scotch broom. I remember as a curious boy visiting this dreary spot, and reading many of the names that were famous with the settling of this country. Early day trappers of French descent who left Quebec with the Hudson Bay Co. were buried here. The grounds were cleaned again in 1930 and have been well kept since. No care whatever has been given the rhododendron save the mowing of grass usually before Decoration Day.

I have watched and observed this plant in bloom for over a dozen years, and it always gives a notable account of itself during the middle of May. This plant also was one of the few that bloomed after the terrible winter two years ago. The flowers are small, white, lightly spotted and carried in a tight truss, and reminiscent of the old Waterer hardy hybrids. The flowers have no particular merit save that they are profuse in display, but one half century of neglect and two winters where the temperature dropped ten degrees below zero (1918 and 1950) bespeaks of at least another fifty years.