RHODODENDRONS FROM SEED
PRESIDENT 'S MESSAGE
DISPLAY GARDEN IN WESTERN MASS
FROM THE MAILBAG
BOOKS AVAILABLE THROUGH YOUR CHAPTER
RHODODENDRONS FROM SEED
By Jack Cowles
One of the most intriguing and yet deceptively simple things to get bitten by is the rhododendron seedling bug. While probably eight out of ten of us are perfectly happy to have and succeed in growing some plants of 'America,' 'Roseum Elegans' or 'P.J.M.,' there are always a few who are different.
There are many reasons for growing seedlings, once you qualify on the basics. To get the basics you just try each step in turn. Get the seed, sow it, grow and plant out the seedlings. Eventually you find out what the results are. Behind the excitement of planning and producing lies the dream of bedazzling the world with something new. The challenge comes when you realize what the tremendous possibilities are, and how much needs to be done. We in New England can only turn green with envy at what is being grown on the West Coast, in England and in the rest of the "Rhododendron Climates." One nice thing about being a seedling grower today is that much of the pioneering work has already been accomplished. Charles Dexter and Tony Consolini in our area, and within the same era Gable and Nearing, are recognized for their accomplishments. They produced hybrids that are important in the nursery business today, as well as providing material for further hybridizing. Fortunately all those really dedicated to rhododendron improvement have been remarkably generous with their materials and knowledge.
The real "moon landing" in rhododendron research, in my opinion, happened with the formation of a "seed exchange" by and for members of the American Rhododendron Society. Most of us don't fully appreciate how important this step is, but it can and already is beginning to open up tremendous possibilities. It speeds up what used to take a lifetime to accomplish to a matter of relatively few years. If enough people participate in the effort, lack of imagination will be the only limit in bringing about improved forms.
If you intend to try some seedling rhododendrons, you must either have a seed supplier or else produce your own. Each approach has its advantages. Usually there is quite a wait involved when you depend upon another source. If you harvest your own, you can process the seed and sow it in only a few days.
With the arrival of October's cool nights the seed pods seem to accelerate their ripening. The first sign of maturity will be the pedicel turning yellowish and wrinkled. (The pedicel is the short stem at the base of each capsule, which connects it to the main truss). The pod will not develop any more and can be picked at this stage. If left too long, the valves of the fruit capsule open, spilling out the seed to the wind. Usually it will be found that large-flowered types produce large (2") fruits, as in the case of R. fortunei. R. racemosum, which has small flowers, has correspondingly small (1/4") fruits. Evidently there is a correlation between flower and pod size.
While one is picking the pods, a system is needed for recording the identity of the different kinds. It is simple to use an envelope for each, writing on the envelope what it is. Sometimes it is well to include the field label with the pods, if it is legible.
The pods, kept in half-open envelopes, will dry out and become crisp after 3 to 5 days in house atmosphere. They can be lightly crushed with a block of wood or a pair of pliers. The seed can then be teased out of the valve segments or strained through a tea strainer. It is well to work over a piece of stiff white paper, and pour the seeds from this into labeled envelopes. One word of caution: some people are allergic to the resin in the dust, so if you have never handled seed before be on guard against a sneeze.
The seed itself varies from very fine and dark as in R. carolinianum and R. racemosum to the relatively large, winged and buff-colored R. fortunei.
Once it is processed, dry seed can be either stored or planted immediately. Longevity in storage depends on two factors - cold and dry. Ordinary room storage is all right for six months. If you plan to store the seed for a longer period, make sure it is thoroughly dry, put it into glass jars with tight lids, then place it in the freezer. I have had excellent germination from some seed after five years of freezer storage.
Generally one seedpod can supply several hundred seeds. It is well to consider the space and time that will be needed in caring for the subsequent progeny. But the most important consideration should be given to getting seed which stands a chance of producing what is expected of it. In the case of a species, it should be the finest form that approaches what you might be seeking. There is always a certain amount of variation in seedlings, so don't expect absolute uniformity.
When growing seedlings of hybrids, one should expect great variation, because that is what hybridizing is all about. In general, the closer one stays to one's own yard for seed source, the better is the probability of survival. The exotic sorts often do not stand the rigors of our climate.
For the first two seasons the seedling is very vulnerable to extremes in temperature, light and water. After two years the average seedling can be grown the same way rooted cuttings are. Seedlings make up for this two-year handicap by the promise of variety and uniqueness. It is the lure of something new and perhaps superior which challenges the seedling grower. Also in favor of seed is the fact that the initial cost is relatively low.
The question is: What is available for crossing, or else where can one obtain seed? A few seedsmen offer some. The American Rhododendron Society publishes its seed exchange list yearly. In it are seeds of rare and elite forms species, plus hybrid seed promising some or the most advanced "models" off the line.
One word of advice, before you start. This habit is a hard one to break, and once you succeed, you're hooked for life!
After many false starts, the ROSEBAY again shows some signs of budding. Hopefully this will become a quarterly, tentatively set for January, April, July and October.
The feature article this month by Jack Cowles is a summary of his fine presentation at our November meeting. In April there will be an article by Dick Leonard on the use of rhododendrons in landscaping. These men are typical of the untapped reservoir of expertise that we have within our membership. Hopefully, future issues of the ROSEBAY will serve as a medium of exchange of knowledge between our members.
Also in this issue is a letter from Jon Shaw, past vice-president and editor of the ROSEBAY, who has been teaching in Norway for the past school year.
For a newsletter like this to survive, it must depend heavily upon the willingness of members to submit articles. Great prose is not a prerequisite: willingness to share experiences relating to rhododendrons is. Tell us about your favorite rhododendron, where you have been, about books you have read. If we are going to learn from the experience of others, we have to know what's happening in your garden!
Send your articles, please, to:
Dr. Jay Slavitz
Pembroke, Mass. 02359
PRESIDENT 'S MESSAGE
On behalf of the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society,
I wish to welcome all of the members who have joined this year and to thank the old members for doing so much to make this organization a success.
I am hoping that this coming year each member of the association will bring in at least one new member,
and also that this year the Chapter can establish two Display Gardens of rhododendrons and azaleas,
one in the western part of the state and one in the eastern. * In both of these, rhododendron lovers should be able to see many varieties with which
they are not otherwise familiar. Also I would like to see some of the more exotic varieties brought from the west coast to test for hardiness here.
Our Chapter owes a great deal to our past president, Ed Mezitt, for his fine work and generosity.
Under the chairmanship of our new vice-president and program chairman, Dr. Max Resnick, we are having some very interesting programs with fine speakers and are learning a lot about rhododendron culture.
If you haven't attended one of these meetings, try to make the next one!
Louis A. Cook, Pres.
DISPLAY GARDEN IN WESTERN MASS
The Committee for the Display Garden in western Mass. met at the Stanley Park in Westfield on Sat., Dec. 9, 1972 at 1 P.M.
Present were Frank Pac, Supt. of the Park, Dick Leonard, Elliot Jessen and Elinor Clarke, chairman.
Also serving on the committee are Jack Cowles and John Smart. Two os (sic) these men, Elliott Jessen and John Smart, represent the Conn. Chapter,
who are collaborating with us.
The proposed site consists of about 2 3/4 acres. There is an excellent high canopy of mature pines and oaks. Although fairly level, the site is well-drained.
Arrangements with the Park are being patterned after those of the Great Lakes Chapter with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, as suggested by Dr. David Leach.
Fairly mature plants should be given to the Park. The chairman and others on the committee are willing to receive smaller plants to grow on. Durable aluminum labels are being provided.
Dick Leonard is in charge of drawing up plans in collaboration with Frank Pac. If you think you might have any plants to offer, please let Dick know as soon as possible.
T. Richard Leonard,
618 Church St.,
Raynham, Mass. 02767.
Mar. 17-25 New England Spring Garden and Flower Show, Commonwealth Armory, Boston. Let us know what you think of our Mass~. Chapter ad in the Flower Show program!
Mar.28 (Wed.), 7:30 P.M. at Weston Nurseries Garden Center, Hopkinton. Speaker, Gregory D. Armstrong, "A Mini-Tour of the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew."
Apr. 11 (Wed.), 7:30 P.M. Dinner and Annual Meeting. Speaker; Larry Carville, "Propagating Can Be Fun!"
TRUSS SHOW AND AUCTION
First Sunday in June, place to be decided. Needed is the assistance of the entire membership to serve on various committees, etc. As soon as possible, please say what you would like to do. Contact Louis Cook, Ridge Ave., Pembroke, Mass. 02359
As a regular feature of future issues, members are invited to submit questions about rhododendron culture to the editor, who will endeavor to get the answer from one of our resident experts. Questions of general interest, with the answers, will be printed.
FROM THE MAILBAG
Oslo 6, Norway
Last weekend I amused myself by going to one of the largest nurseries here in Oslo and checking out the rhododendrons. Only five varieties were being sold: 'Catawbiense Grandiflora', 'Cat. Boursault,' 'America', 'Cunningham's White' and 'Elizabeth'. The first four seem to be very natural for a severe climate like Oslo's. The last may be hardy under snow, though I can't believe it.
Very few happy rhododendrons in gardens. Most seem to be chlorotic unhealthy plants -unmulched, roots injured by cultivation etc. We need to start a Norwegian Rhododendron Society!
Eugenie and I have rented a very nice house with plenty of room for our family. When the snow comes in late November it should be possible to ski in a park which is only a few hundred yards from here.
We are teaching in what is supposed to be Oslo's toughest school. It is tough but not up to American standards in that respect. Actually it is more difficult than any school I have taught in before.
Rhododendrons and Their Relatives, Plants and Gardens Handbook, Brooklyn Botanic Garden Vol.27, No 02, 97 pp., $1.50
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden Handbooks are extraordinary buys for advanced or amateur gardeners (four issues a year for $4 - checks payable to Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 1000 Washington Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11225). This issue is no exception. In fact, because of its color plates (a gift from a wealthy patron) it may be the handsomest the Garden has ever produced. here are twenty-five contributing authors, authorities on landscaping, growing, breeding and propagating ericaceous plants. The Handbook includes articles on America's Native Azaleas, Georgia's Rare Plant - Elliottia, New hybrids From Long Island, Favorite Rhododendrons and Azaleas by Region, that for New England having been written by former Mass. Chapter president Ed. Mezitt.
BOOKS AVAILABLE THROUGH YOUR CHAPTER. Save some $$ and help the Chapter make a little also. (Of your $10 dues, $7 goes right away to ARS headquarters to cover the Quarterly and your national dues) Suggestions for other books we might offer will be welcomed.
Barber and Phillips, THE ROTHSCHILD RHODODENDRONS
Leach, RHODODENDRONS OF THE WORLD
Van Veen, RHODODENDRONS IN AMERICA
Wilkinson, E.I.DuPont, Botaniste
FUNDAMENTALS OF R and A CULTURE (ARS)
RHODODENDRONS and THEIR RELATIVES (Brooklyn Botanic Garden Vo. 27, no.2)
Please make check payable to Mass. chapter and mail to E. Clarke, Bear Swamp Gardens, Ashfield, Mass.