Rhododendron degronianum subsp. yakushimanum - yak rhododendron

On windblown mountain tops grows a small evergreen shrub, the perfectly hemispherical yak rhododendron, with oval leaves densely felted on their undersides. When the thick snows finally thaw in June, the pale rose-red flower buds open, soon turning white or near-white. After flowering new foliage appears, covered in thick white or cream coloured felt which gradually disappears from the upper surfaces to reveal the dark green shiny leaves. On the undersides the felt persists, changing gradually to a darker brown.

The small island of Yakushima lies about 120 km south of Kyushu, off the southern tip of Japan. The highest point on the island rises to 1935m asl (= above sea level), and this is where the smallest and hardiest yak rhododendrons are found.

The first yak rhododendrons seen in Europe were three specimens sent in 1934 by the Japanese botanist Koichiro Wada to Lionel de Rothschild in England. Two of them survived and became the basis for the successful spread of the species throughout Europe and the USA. Several good forms have been named and the species has been the object of enthusiastic breeding, aimed at producing suitable cold, wind and sun hardy rhododendrons for the small modern garden.

The first yak rhododendrons were planted at Mustila at the change of the decade 1980s–1990s. The shrubs have thrived, flowering beautifully and regularly when the winters aren’t too severe and snow cover has been sufficient. The silvery new foliage appears after flowering, in late June, and is as impressive in its way as the flowering.


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