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Species In Our Midst
Rhododendron bureavii

by Dick Brooks


Rhododendron bureavii Lem's form
Picture by S & J Perkins
Rhododendron bureavii Lem's form in Salem, NH


Rhododendron bureavii

This species is a member of Subsection Taliensia, a large and taxonomically complex group of elepidote (non-scaly) rhododendrons. Its name honors a French professor, E. Bureau (1830-1918).

R. bureavii occurs in the wild in two fairly limited areas in northern Yunnan, China, in open pine forest and rhododendron thickets, at elevations from 10,000-12,800 feet. It was introduced into cultivation in 1917-1925, and again in 1994.

This singularly attractive, compact and rounded shrub attains a height of 5 feet or more in the open. In shade it becomes more tree-like, reaching to 20 feet or more. For ornamental foliage it ranks among the finest in the entire genus. The leaves are elliptic and acuminate (pointed), up to 7 inches long. The upper surface is usually shiny dark green at maturity, while the lower surface is covered with a dense, rusty-red indumentum. The branchlets are also densely woolly.

As with many species in Subsection Taliensia, R. bureavii has a reputation of being shy flowering, but this writer has seen older specimens in the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden that were covered with bloom. Perhaps it simply takes longer than most rhododendrons to attain sexual maturity. The trusses contain 10 to 20 flowers, tubular-campanulate in form, 1 to 1 1/2 inches long, in color white flushed pink to pink. The calyx is large, 1/4 to 1/2 inch long.

At least two forms of this species have received the Award of Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society. An astounding 18 different forms are growing at the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden, near Seattle. Greer rates the species as hardy to -10°F., an indication that it should succeed in Zone 6 gardens in our area. Like so many Chinese species, it needs excellent drainage to avoid root rot, and some shade. It is well worth any extra effort to satisfy these needs.

R. bureavii has passed on its superb foliage characteristics to several hybrids, including:

'Cinnamon Bear' (bureavii x yakushimanum 'Koichiro Wada'); 'Elya' [('Fabia' x bureavii) x yakushimanum]; 'Hazel' (bureavii hybrid) and 'Teddy Bear' (bureavii x yakushimanum)

Dick Brooks, Concord, MA


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