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Species In Our Midst
Rhododendron albrechtii

by Dick Brooks

Rhododendron albrechtii
Picture by S & J Perkins
Rhododendron albrechtii in Westport Point, MA

Rhododendron albrechtii

A deciduous azalea, this species belongs to a small group of azaleas native to Japan and northeastern Asia. It is classified in Section Sciadorhodion. Its closest relatives include the familiar Royal Azalea, R. schlippenbachii.

The name 'albrechtii' commemorates Michael Albrecht, a physician at the Russian consulate in Hakodate, on the island of Hokkaido, Japan. Albrecht discovered this azalea growing near Hakodate in 1860. It was described by the botanist Maximovicz in 1870, but was not introduced to cultivation in the west until Professor Charles Sargent, first director of the Arnold Arboretum, sent seeds to the Arboretum in 1892. A subsequent collection of seed by E. H. Wilson in 1914 was distributed by the Arboretum. In nature it occurs from central Honshu northward to Hokkaido, at elevations of 2,500 to 6,500 feet.

R. albrechtii forms a medium sized shrub, 3 to 8 feet tall. On vigorous young shoots the obovate leaves, 2 to 4 inches long, are spaced alternately up the stem; on shorter shoots developing from older wood, the leaves are closely spaced, resulting in a whorl of leaves at the branch tips.

The blossoms open before or with the new leaves, in our area from late April to early May, a few days before those of the Royal Azalea. They are borne in clusters of 2 to 5 flowers, each 1 to 2 inches in diameter; their shape is rotate-campanulate (flat and open, with a short tube), with the two lower lobes flared apart, as in R. vaseyi. The color varies from a deep rose pink to brilliant red-purple, and a plant in full bloom in early spring is a most attractive landscape feature.

Rated as hardy to -15°F, the plant in this writer's Zone 5b garden has never failed to bloom in 10 years. The only negative feature I have discerned is that the leaves seem to be particularly relished by Japanese beetles; however, these pests are easily picked off into a jar of soapy water.

R. albrechtii seems to be a "loner" when it comes to interbreeding with other species. I am unaware of any hybrids produced with R. albrechtii as a parent; I have even tried crossing it with its close relative R. schlippenbachii, without success.

Dick Brooks, Concord, MA

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