Susan B. Clark
The Massachusetts Chapter Species Study Group is celebrating the publication of its 50th Species Profile! What was originally an earnest but tentative project has developed into a long-term, rather ambitious research and educational effort.
The Species Study Group had spent its first decade learning about rhododendron taxonomy and all the technical language used to study it, as well as surveying rhododendron species world-wide. We then decided to concentrate on species that we could grow in New England. We not only wanted to learn all we could about species already being grown in this part of the country, we also wanted to identify all the species that could be grown here.
To do that we first had to learn what was already being grown here. That notion was combined with a desire to share some of our newfound knowledge with the other members of our chapter. We decided to publish a profile of a different species each month in the Chapter Newsletter. This was followed by a five question form, which readers could use to let us know if they had ever grown that plant and what their experience with it had been.
Next we drew up a short list of species and divided writing assignments among the Group members. Each profile was to be a collation and summary of many different sources of information from reference books, fellow rhodie growers, and personal experience. In December of 1994 the Group published its first Species Profile on R. brachycarpum in the chapter Newsletter. We have tried to run a profile of a presumably hardy species in every Newsletter. The number of profiles has grown steadily and our collection of reader responses continues to grow as well.
All of the information brought in by the short questionnaires is being kept in a growing database. All species listed as hardy to -5°F/-21°C or colder in the standard reference works have been logged in the database and will be the subject of a profile eventually (how many decades will this project last?). This annotated master list is now at the heart of our study as we collect field data to confirm/correct the book ratings or to provide ratings where there are none.
Many species possibly hardy here, as far as we know, have not yet been tried in this part of the country. The master list also has a surprisingly large number of unfamiliar plants that are not readily available. We have started to acquire seed for many of these species and to grow enough plants for distribution among our members. We have assigned ourselves many more years of happy research on Species for New England.
We welcome your responses to the short questionnaire that appears at the end of each Species Profile. All of the published Profiles, as well as the entire list of the fifty published species and a blank questionnaire can be found at the Chapter web site: www.rosebay.org/chapterweb/specmist.htm.
You can also contact Susan Clark, 978. 369.8597. We would like to know if you are growing or have tried to grow (and failed) any of the less common species, including those we haven't even profiled yet. Help us amass this data and increase our knowledge of what rhododendrons and azaleas can and cannot grow in New England.