Dwarf rhododendronBotanical name: Rhododendron...

PLANT NOTEBOOK

May 25, 1991|By Amalie Adler Ascher

Dwarf rhododendron

Botanical name: Rhododendron yakushimanum

Pronunciation: ro-do-DEN-dron

Family: Ericaceae (heath)

Common name: Yak

Origin: Japan

Class: Shrub

Display period: Late May, June

Height: 3-4 feet

Environment: Filtered light The Rhododendron genus, one of the largest and most varied in the plant kingdom, includes more than 800 species and in excess of 10,000 hybrids with amateurs as well as professionals engaged in the breeding. Azaleas, by the way, are actually rhododendrons, and are not, as is often thought, a genus of its own.

The dwarf rhododendrons are the ones I find so appealing, having been won over by R. yakushimanum Centennial Celebration. In the three years I've been growing it in a pot on my terrace, it has only reached 10 inches high. Even veteran nurserymen marvel at its ruggedness. As is typical of such hybrids, flowers reach full size, the plant's dwarf habit notwithstanding. Care is easy, too.

Dwarf rhododendrons are a fairly recent innovation; the species R. yakushimanum was introduced into England from the wild in 1934. According to Peter A. Cox in "The Smaller Rhododendrons" (Timber Press; $29.95), the yak, for its slow rate of growth, dense and compact habit and free-flowering, is "considered by many the most perfect species known." Almost anyone who has ever "dabbled" in hybridizing, he adds, has used it as a parent.

In its native habitat on the Yakushima Island in S. Japan, the yak lives at 4,000- to 6,000-foot elevations. Dwarf wild species generally are found to inhabit Asiatic mountains above the timberline, the exposure, no doubt, contributing to their stunted size. Rocks and the plants' own colonies help to shelter them.

Unlike rhododendrons typically, yak hybrids can take sun. A source for Doc, Dopey, Nestucca, Percy Wiseman and Surrey Heath, five of the 15 yaks Mr. Cox rates as "the best," is Hall Rhododendrons, P.O. Box 62, Drain, Ore. 97435 (catalog $1.25). Centennial Celebration is an exclusive of Wayside Gardens, 1 Garden Lane, Hodges, S.C. 29695-0001.

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