Rhododendron rufum

Rhododendron rufum was collected in China in the early 1900s by such famous plant hunters as Joseph Rock and the Swedes K. A. H. (“Harry”) Smith and David Hummel. The plants grown from these seed collections have achieved about the same size as in their natural habitat: they are fairly open and sparsely branched, growing to 2-4m and tree-like in habit. In Europe the species has proved extremely cold-hardy, growing happily in Stockholm’s Botanical Gardens for over 60 years, and at Mustila since at least the 1950s.

R. rufum belongs to the western Chinese Taliense subsection, well-known in the west for their showy foliage. The best way of recognising it is by the leaf undersides, which are coated when young with almost white, later brown or rust-red felty down. The shrub doesn’t produce many flower-buds under Finnish conditions, and the bell-shaped white or pink flowers tend to open rather early due to the continental origins of the species, which means they may be destroyed by late frosts.


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