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Species In Our Midst
Rhododendron sutchuenense

by Joe Bruso

Rhododendron sutchuenense
Picture by Dick Brooks
Rhododendron sutchuenense in Concord, MA

Rhododendron sutchuenense

R. sutchuenense is in Subsection Fortunea and is related to R .griffithianum, vernicosum, orbiculare, oreodoxa, praevernum, and calophytum among others. The specific name means 'from Sichuan'. As the name implies, this plant is native to China. It was introduced to the west by E. H. Wilson in 1901.

This species is distinctive for its foliage, with leaves reaching up to 12 inches. (When grown from seed, this characteristic is evident with the very first pair of true leaves, which are much longer than wide.) This beautiful foliage hangs down to cover the stems. The large leaves are dark matte green on top and paler underneath. New growth, when it first appears, is grayish.

According to Greer, R. sutchuenense is hardy to -10°F and grows to 5 feet in 10 years. It eventually reaches a very large size. Flowers are widely bell shaped, up to 3 inches long, held in trusses of 8 to 12 and appear early. Color can be pale lilac, rose pink or rose-lilac, sometimes white faintly tinged pink, sometimes spotted purple. Greer's Guidebook (1996 edition) shows a good photo of the flowers on page 56.

Dick Brooks has been growing this species in Concord for several years, without hardiness problems. From his experience it is a shy bloomer, blooming for the first time in 1990 after more than 14 years in the garden.

Not much has been done with breeding sutchuenense; Bulgin lists only two hybrids, one from an arboreum roseum cross, 'Anne Clarke' and one with R. ponticum, 'Violet Gose'. Since sutchuenense has such huge elegant leaves to contribute, along with its hardiness, it ought to make an excellent parent.

Joe Bruso, Hopkinton, MA

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