A deciduous or semi-evergreen shrub up to 6 ft in height; young shoots scaly and downy. Leaves oval, rounded at the apex, tapering or rounded at the base, 1⁄2 to 11⁄2 in. long, 1⁄4 to 5⁄8 in. wide, dark glossy green and slightly scaly above, paler and scaly beneath. Flowers bright rosy purple, 1 to 11⁄2 in. across, produced during January and February singly from each one of a cluster of scaly buds at the end of the previous summer’s growth, where there are usually but one or two flowers open at a time. Corolla flat, saucer-shaped; calyx-lobes five, short. Bot. Mag., t. 636 (s. Dauricum)
Native of Russia from E. Siberia to the Pacific, and of N.E. Mongolia, N.E. China, Korea, and Japan; grown in English gardens since 1780. It is one of the earliest of rhododendrons to flower, showing its blossoms usually in January, sometimes even when snow is on the ground, but later in some seasons. For this reason, although its beauties are of a modest kind, it is well worth growing in a small group, preferably in some spot sufficiently sheltered to mitigate to some extent the harshness of wind and weather at the inclement season when its blossoms appear.
cv. ‘Midwinter’. – A selection with Phlox Purple flowers. Award of Merit March 19, 1963; First Class Certificate February 4, 1969, on both occasions when exhibited by the Crown Estate Commissioners, Windsor Great Park.
var sempervirens Sims R. dauricum var. atrovirens Hort.; R. ledebourii Poyark. – Leaves very dark green, persisting through the winter and still clothing the plant at flowering-time, which, in the plant figured in Bot. Mag., t. 8930, is March or April. It has recently been given specific status as R. ledebourii, on the grounds that it occupies a distinct area in the Altai and E. Siberia, where it does not overlap with typical R. dauricum (Fl. S.S.S.R., Vol. 18 (1952), pp. 54, 722). It was in cultivation by 1817, in which year it was figured in Bot. Mag., t. 1888. There was a reintroduction in 1967, when M. Robert de Belder sent some plants to Britain raised from seeds received from Russia under the name R. ledebourii.