An evergreen shrub or small tree 10 to 30 ft high in the wild; branchlets very thick and sturdy. Leaves very large, 6 to 13 in. long, 2 to 5 in. wide, oblong, the apex rounded except for a short abrupt point, the base with two well-marked lobes (or auricles) to which the specific name refers, upper surface dull dark green, hairy on the midrib when young, becoming glabrous, lower surface clothed with rust-coloured hairs, ultimately whitish brown; stalk up to 13⁄4 in. long, stout, bristly. The leaf-blade is of very leathery texture. Flowers 3 to 4 in. deep, scarcely as wide at the mouth, funnel-shaped; white or pink, six to eight in a truss; flower-stalk stout, 1 to 11⁄2 in. long, glandular-hairy. Calyx small. Corolla seven- or eight-lobed, downy outside; stamens fourteen or sixteen, glabrous. Seed-pod 11⁄2 in. long, 1⁄2 in. wide. Bot. Mag., t. 8786. (s. Auriculatum)
R. auriculatum was discovered by Augustine Henry in the neighbourhood of Ichang, W. Hupeh, China in 1885, and was described four years later. It also occurs in Szechwan and Kweichow, but is nowhere common. It was introduced by Wilson in 1901 when collecting for Messrs Veitch, and flowered at Caerhays, Cornwall, in 1912, at Kew five years later.
R. auriculatum is remarkable for flowering and starting into growth well after midsummer has passed, July and August being the usual months, though a few buds may open even later. The flowers are fragrant, and the lower part of the young shoots is furnished with lurid crimson scales. But the flowers are apt to brown very quickly if the weather is hot and dry. It is perfectly hardy, but in gardens with a shorter than average growing season the new growths may not ripen sufficiently to withstand an early frost. In the milder parts it has attained a height of 30 ft, but in southern England it is unlikely to exceed 15 ft, though its width is often greater than this. Shade from the hottest sun is essential.
Among the best-known of its hybrids are Polar Bear and ‘Argosy Snow White’.