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Species In Our Midst
Rhododendron keiskei

by Dick Brooks


Rhododendron keiskei
Picture by S & J Perkins
Rhododendron keiskei in Salem, NH


Rhododendron keiskei

The specific epithet 'keiskei' commemorates the Japanese botanist Ito Keisuke (1803-1900). It is native to mountainous regions of central to southern Japan, in rocky situations at elevations of 2,000 to 6,000 feet. In the southernmost part of its range (Yakushima) it occasionally is epiphytic.

R. keiskei is a lepidote (scaly) rhododendron, quite variable in habit. Taller forms can reach as much as 10 feet, with a loose, open habit; at the other extreme is var. ozawae (formerly var. cordifolia) and its cultivar 'Yaku Fairy', which forms a dense, spreading mound, barely 6 inches tall and 2 feet across. Foliage is also variable in shape and size (1 to 3 inches long), olive green to medium dark green. Flowers are 1 to 1 1/2 inches across, pale yellow to lemon yellow, in trusses of 2 to 6 flowers, produced in early midseason (second to third week of May in the Boston area).

The dwarfer forms tend to be more cold-hardy than the taller forms; R. keiskei 'Yaku Fairy' has proved bud-hardy to at least -15°F (-26°C).

Many excellent hybrids have been developed, especially from the dwarf forms. A sampling of the better known offspring: 'Southland', 'Lenape', 'Brandywine', 'Spring Song', 'Chesapeake', 'Mary Fleming' AE*, 'Tiffany', 'Elsmere', 'Patty Bee' SPA**, 'Tom Koenig', 'Ginny Gee' SPA**, 'Pikeland', 'Too Bee' AE*, 'Golden Bee' AE*, 'Shamrock', 'Wee Bee' AE*, 'Jericho'.

*AE= Award of Excellence **SPA= Superior Plant Award

Dick Brooks, Concord, MA


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