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Species In Our Midst
Rhododendron makinoi

by Susan Clark

Rhododendron makinoi
Picture by S & J Perkins
Rhododendron makinoi growing in Salem, NH

Rhododendron makinoi

R. makinoi is a distinctive and elegant foliage plant, worthy of a prime place in every garden. It is a close relative of R. yakushimanum and was classified as a subspecies of yakushimanum by Chamberlain until Frank Doleshy recently persuaded him to restore its specific status. Along with R. roxieanum, it has the narrowest leaves of Subgenus Hymenanthes (elepidotes). It was named in honor of the Japanese botanist, T. Makino, who was one of the first to describe it around the turn of the century. Its native range is a small area in central Honshu, Japan where it grows in the mountains (600- 2300 feet) among ferns and rocks in the forest.

R. makinoi forms a medium sized plant, compact or broadly upright, 5 or 6 feet at maturity. Its striking leaves are its most recognizable feature; they are narrowly lanceolate and covered on the undersurface with a glorious, thick, woolly fawn indumentum, have a shiny green upper surface, and can be up to 7 inches long. New growth is often very late and is covered with showy, silvery tomentum (felty covering). The plant has lovely light pink, funnel-shaped campanulate flowers that come late in the bloom season. The late flowers and the showy new growth provide two valuable displays in the garden.

R. makinoi seems quite hardy in our area; Greer and Davidian both rate it for -10°F . My plant has been very plant hardy, but it has only recently started to bloom and the last few winters have been mild. Peter Cox, in The Smaller Rhododendrons, claims it is very hard to grow in Scotland, unless in pure peat! I have seen huge specimens in the Boston area, on the West Coast, and on Long Island, not to mention the magnificent plants in full sun at Polly Hill’s arboretum on Martha’s Vineyard.

Bulgin, in his book, Rhododendron Hybrids; a Compendium by Parent, lists only two named plants with R. makinoi as a parent: ‘Rosa Perle ‘( x Kluis Triumph) and ‘White Wedding’ ( x yakushimanum). This plant is a true gem that belongs in everyone’s garden.

Susan Clark, Concord, MA

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