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Rhododendron degronianum Carr.

Modern name

Rhododendron degronianum Carrière


R. metternichii, nom. illegit., f. pentamerum Maxim.; R. japonicum (Bl.) Schneid. var. pentamerum Hutch.

An evergreen shrub of variable habit in the wild, usually not more than 6 ft high in this country, and of compact habit; young branches thinly white- tomentose at first, becoming glabrous. Leaves elliptic, oblong-elliptic, or lanceo­late-elliptic, obtuse or bluntly acute at the apex, sometimes bluntly and broadly cuspidate, base cuneate, commonly 3 to 5 in. long and 78 to 134 in. wide, sometimes up to 7 in. long and 2 in. wide, dark green or olive-green and glabrous above when mature, covered beneath with a suede-like tomentum which is whitish at first, becoming fawn to rusty or brownish at length; petioles stout, 12 to 34 in. long. Inflorescence terminal, with up to fifteen flowers (more in some culti­vated plants); pedicels more or less tomentose, up to 1 in. or slightly more long. Calyx reduced to a mere rim, or very short and bluntly lobed. Corolla between funnel-shaped and campanulate, 112 to 2 in. wide, usually either five-lobed (in typical R. degronianum) or seven-lobed (in var. heptamerum), but sometimes six- or eight-lobed, pale rose-pink or sometimes white, unmarked or with reddish spots. Stamens ten (fourteen in var. heptamerum), filaments white, anthers yellow. Ovary densely rusty tomentose; style white, just overtopping the stamens. Fruits cyhndric to ovoid, up to 1 in. long, dark brown, with remains of the tomentum persisting. Bot. Mag., t. 8403 (the typical five-lobed form). (s. Ponticum ss. Caucasicum)

Native of central and southern Japan at altitudes of up to 6,000 ft. The typical, five-lobed variety was in cultivation in Britain by 1894; Nicholson gives 1870 for the introduction of “R. metternichii”, i.e., the seven-lobed variety, but Fortune may have sent it from Japan in 1862 to Standish’s nursery. R. degronianum is a perfectly hardy species, but not much grown in this country. It is a variable species, not only in the number of lobes and other parts of the flower, but also in colour, in the form of the truss, in density of indumentum and in habit. In the 1930s K. Wada distributed ‘Wada’s Form’, described in his catalogue as having a dense, cinnamon-brown, woolly tomentum, as in R. mallotum, and ‘Metternianum’, said to be a dwarf grower with five- or six-lobed flowers. Dwarf, compact forms are found on some of the islands off the inner coast of the main island of Japan. Of these Wada listed ‘Sadoense’, from Sado Island (38° N.); a form from Oki Island, farther to the south-west, is now available in commerce.

The variations of this species in the wild have been studied by Frank Doleshy, who has published interesting reports in the Quarterly Bulletin of the American Rhododendron Society (Vol. 22 (1968), pp. 145-59; Vol. 24 (1970), pp. 68-79; Vol. 26 (1972), pp. 193-5).

f. angustifolium (Makino) Sealy, comb. nov. R. metternichii f. angustifolium Makino; R. stenophyllum Makino, not Hook. f.; R. metternichii var. angustifolium Bean; R. makinoi Tagg – Leaves strikingly narrow and sometimes sickle-shaped, up to 6 in. or slightly more long, but not more than 34 in. wide; the midrib is often deeply impressed above, and the margins are usually revolute. The taxonomic status of this variant is controversial. It is said to be confined to a restricted area in central Japan and is usually regarded as a distinct species – R. makinoi. Its specific status was upheld by the Edinburgh botanist H. F. Tagg, who pointed out that plants at Edinburgh differed from R. degronianum not only in the narrowness of the leaves, but also in flowering later, and not making their new growth until September. But Nitzelius, in the paper already referred to, points out that some cultivated plants agreeing with R. makinoi make their growth at the normal season, while some plants of R. degronianum flush late. Also that a plant agreeing with R. makinoi was raised in the Göteborg Botanic Garden from seeds collected on Mt Hito, Kyushu, far to the south of the area to which R. makinoi is supposed to be confined.

var. heptamerum (Maxim.) Sealy, comb. nov. R. metternichii Sieb. & Zucc., nom. illegit.; Hymenanthes japonica Bl.; R. metternichii var. heptamerum Maxim.; R. hymenanthes Makino var. heptamerum (Maxim.) Makino; R. japonicum (Bl.) Schneid. (1912), not (A. Gr.) Suringar (1908) – Corolla seven-lobed; stamens fourteen; ovary seven- or eight-chambered. From the limited number of specimens available for study, it is impossible to decide whether the heptamerous flower of this variety is correlated with other characters. But T. Nitzelius, who examined a wide range of material and carried out field-studies in Japan, concluded that there was no other difference between the five-lobed and seven-lobed plants, and refused to recognise them as even varietally distinct, pointing out that several Chinese species vary in the number of corolla-lobes (Act. Hort. Gotoburg., Vol. 24 (1961), pp. 159-67). It certainly seems doubtful whether the species can be usefully categorised into five- or seven-lobed varieties, since some plants are intermediate in this respect, and eight-lobed forms are known.

R. yakushimanum Nakai R. metternichii var. yakushimanum (Nakai) Ohwi – Yakushima, where this rhododendron occurs, is a small island lying at the southern end of the Japanese archipelago, some 90 miles south of Kagoshima in Kyushu. The island, best known as the home of the conifer Cryptomeria japonica, has several peaks rising above the tree-line, the highest of which is Mt Miyanoura, some 6,5000 ft above sea-level. On these mountains the R. degronianum complex occurs in several forms. Some are tall-growing (up to 25 ft high) and grow in the forests; at the other extreme are forms from exposed places, which are dense, low-growing or even prostrate, with narrow, strongly revolute leaves. Owing to the inadequacy of Nakai’s original account of R. yakushimanum (1921), and the lack of a type specimen, it is impossible to know for certain what he regarded as the typical state of his species, nor the location of the plants on which his description is based. But from his diagnosis, and from a later account (in Nakai and Koidzumi, Trees and Shrubs Indigenous in Japan, rev. ed. (1927)), typical R. yakushimanum has short leaves (up to 234 in. long according to the original diagnosis), with revolute margins, and differs from R. degronianum, which too has dwarf forms, in being more densely hairy in all its parts. This is not much on which to found a species, but it is convenient to retain R. yakushimanum as such, at least in garden nomenclature.

The following articles contain interesting information on R. yakushimanum in the wild: R.C.Y.B. 1961, pp. 52-8, by A. F. Serbin on plants growing on Mt Hanano-Ego, reprinted from Qtly Bull. Amer. Rhod. Soc., where there is a later article by the same author in Vol. 19 (1965), pp. 75-82, and another by Frank Doleshy in Vol. 20 (1966), pp. 79-85; Gard. Chron., Vol. 156 (1964), pp. 112, 115, by K. Wada; Intern. Dendrol. Soc. Yr Bk 1972, pp. 28-9, by R. de Belder, with a striking photograph of R. yakushimanum on Mt Miyanoura. For the taxonomy of this species see: J. M. Cowan, Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 72 (1947), pp. 391-3, and T. Nitzelius, Act. Hort. Gotoburg., Vol. 24 (1961), pp. 158-9,162, 166-7.

R. yakushimanum owes its fame in Britain to two plants received by Lionel de Rothschild at Exbury from K. Wada’s Hakoneya Nurseries, Numazushi, Japan, in 1934 (1936?). One of these, moved to the Royal Horticultural Society Garden at Wisley, was exhibited at the Chelsea Show in 1947 and received a First Class Certificate. Ever since, the Wisley clone – now named ‘Koichiro Wada’ – has been one of the most admired of rhododendrons. It is of very dense habit, with dark green doubly convex leaves about 3 in. long, thickly tomentose beneath (the indumentum at first white, becoming brown) and felted with white above when young; flowers twelve in a dense truss; corolla campanulate, about 214 in. wide, of an exquisite apple-blossom pink in bud, ageing to pure white with faint speckling. In 1947 the original plant was 212 ft high and 312 ft across; its present dimensions (1975) are 4 ft 8 in. by 7 ft. The Exbury clone is very similar to ‘Koichiro Wada’ and scarcely less beautiful. It is a trifle more erect-growing, with rather smaller leaves, and there is less spotting in the flower. Both are perfectly hardy, flower towards the end of May, and will stand full sun. Other plants are in cultivation which were imported as seedlings collected in the wild.

During the past twenty years, R. yakushimanum (in particular the clone ‘Koichiro Wada’) has been more used in hybridising than any other species, except R. griersonianum. See further on p. 826.


This species was first described in 1784 by Thunberg, who confused it with R. maximum L. and treated it under that name. This misidentification was noted by Blume but, being acquainted only with the form with seven-lobed cotollas, hitherto unknown in Rhododendron, he considered that the species represented a new genus, and called it Hymenanthes japonica (1826). Nine years later Siebold and Zuccarini restored the species to Rhododendron, naming it R. metternichii, but they cited the earlier name Hymenanthes japonica Bl. as a synonym, thus rendering their own epithet illegitimate. The name for the species in Rhododendron should take Blume’s earlier epithet, and the combination was in fact made by Schneider in 1909. It could be argued that it was made too late, for a Japanese azalea of the Luteum subseries had been named Azalea japonica by Asa Gray in 1859, and this name was transferred to Rhododendron by Suringar in 1908, i.e., one year before the publication of the combination R. japonicum (Bl.) Schneid. However, the name R. japonicum (A. Gr.) Suringar was expressly stated by Suringar to be provisional, and it therefore remained without standing until Rehder and Wilson took it up in their Monograph of Azaleas (1921). The correct name for the species generally known as R. metternichii is therefore R. japonicum (Bl.) Schneid. But the name R. japonicum (A. Gr.) Suringar has been so widely used for the azalea since 1921 that to restore the name R. japonicum to its proper use now would only invite confusion. It therefore seems best to take up the earliest name for the species after R. metternichii, and that is R. degronianum Carr. The two names bear a slightly different meaning, since the former is based on the heptamerous form, the latter on the pentamerous.

From the Supplement (Vol. V)

It was pointed out in the footnote on page 644 that the correct name for this species as a whole is R. japonicum (Bl.) Schneid. and this is the name used in the Edinburgh revision. See further in this supplement under R. japonicum.

R. yakushimanum – This is mercifully retained as a distinct species in the Edinburgh revision. See also R. yakushimanum in this supplement.

subsp. makinoi (Tagg) Chamberlain R. makinoi Tagg; R. metternichii var. pentamerum Maxim. f. angustifolium Makino; R. degronianum f. angustifolium (Makino) Sealy – See page 645 under f. angustifolium. This rhododendron has in common with R. yakushimanum an inflorescence-rachis that is much shorter than in R. japonicum and the densely tomentose pedicels. But although some plants of R. yakushimanum have narrow leaves, the length/breadth ratio is never as great as in subsp. makinoi, which also has persistent bud-scales (deciduous in typical R. yakushimanum).



Other species in the genus