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Species In Our Midst
Rhododendron nudipes

by John and Sally Perkins

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

Rhododendron nudipes

This species is a member of Subgenus Tsutsusi, Section Brachycalyx. Most of the Tsutsusi Subgenus are commonly known as the evergreen azaleas; however the Section Brachycalyx members are deciduous with leaves in whorls at the end of the branches. Brachycalx formerly was grouped with the old Schlippenbachii Subseries.

The experts disagree on key characteristics when describing the dozen or so species in this section. Some consider R. nudipes synonymous with R. reticulatum and/or R. yakumontanum, while others divide this species into a half dozen different varieties and subspecies. Davidian, known for his splitting, has lumped R. nudipes with R. reticulatum. The epithet 'nudipes' refers to the plant's glabrescent (mostly hairless) twigs as 'bare feet'.

R. nudipes is widely distributed in Japan, growing in light mountain forests at elevations of 650-5900 feet. One would expect a great deal of variability because of its wide altitude range. Hardiness is rated at USDA Zone 5a to 8a, making it the most hardy species of its section. The plant forms a shrub to a small tree. Young shoots, leaves, and flowers are covered with brown hairs. The rhomboid-shaped leaves are in whorls at the end of branchlets. Because of the whorled branching arrangement, the plant is very formal in habit. The funnel-campanulate shaped flowers are usually borne in pairs before the leaves expand. The 2-3 inch flowers are rose-purple to deep pink with purple spots. The number of stamens is variable, usually 8 to 10.

Seed is sometimes offered through the ARS seed exchange. We are not familiar with its use in any hybrids or with reports of natural hybrids.

A seedling, obtained from Dick Brooks, has grown to a height of 3 feet (1 m) in our garden in Salem, NH. In over 7 years the plant has not experienced any significant winter damage, but in the spring of 1997 the flower pips blasted after a late freeze. It has flowered well ever since.

Sally and John Perkins, Salem, NH

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