An evergreen tree said to be as much as 45 ft high; young shoots clothed with brownish down. Leaves varying from narrowly elliptical to oblanceolate and from tapered to slightly heart-shaped at the base, the apex rounded and mucronate, 5 to 12 in. long, 2 to 41⁄2 in. wide; dark green and glabrous above, covered beneath with a dense brown felt; stalk 3⁄4 to 11⁄2 in. long. Flowers opening in April or early May in a truss of twelve to fifteen, on stalks 1 to 11⁄2 in. long. Calyx inconspicuous. Corolla bell-shaped, 13⁄4 to 21⁄2 in. wide, white, creamy white, or rose-tinted, with a dark crimson blotch at the base, seven or eight-lobed. Stamens fourteen or sixteen, unequal in length but all shorter than the corolla, downy at the base; anthers red-brown. Ovary felted; style glabrous. Bot. Mag., t. 8372. (s. Falconeri)
R. fictolacteum is widespread in Yunnan and S.W. Szechwan, occurring in areas drier, or at least much less rainy, than is usual for members of its series; it is also found in S.E. Tibet. It was discovered by the French missionary Delavay in Yunnan, north of Tali; he sent seeds to Paris, whence seedlings were sent to Kew in 1889. It was first flowered in Britain in 1910, by F. D. Godman of South Lodge, Sussex. A truss from this plant was figured in the Botanical Magazine (t. 8372) under the name R. lacteum Franch., with which it had been wrongly identified by Hemsley. Sir Isaac Bayley-Balfour established that it was in fact a species entirely distinct from R. lacteum and named it R. fictolacteum (Gard. Chron., Vol. 59 (1916), p. 168).
R. fictolacteum was reintroduced by Forrest in 1910 from the Sungkwei pass and later from other parts of Yunnan, and is also in cultivation from seeds collected by Dr Rock. It is a very hardy species, occurring in the wild at altitudes mostly between 12,000 and 13,000 ft, and at its best it is very fine, though in recent years it has been overshadowed by its relative R. rex (see below). It received an Award of Merit when shown by Messrs Reuthe in 1923. The same award was given in 1953, on April 14, to a form raised by Lord Digby from Rock 59255. In this plant, named ‘Cherry Tip’, the flowers are white, flushed pink, bright cherry pink in bud. The seeds were collected by Rock in the Lichiang range.
A fine form was found by Forrest in 1922 on the Chienchuan-Mekong divide, with white flowers flushed with pink, in a large truss (F.22020).
R. rex Lévl. – Allied to R. fictolacteum, but differing in the longer, relatively broader leaves and the greyish or buff indumentum of the leaf-undersides and the much stouter branchlets. It was described by Léveilé in 1914 from specimens collected by Maire in N.E. Yunnan, and appears to be confined to the borders between Yunnan and S.W. Szechwan. Kingdon Ward’s 4509, now usually referred to R. rex, was found in a shady limestone gorge in the Muli region in 1921. ‘It grows 40 ft high, bearing leaves 18 inches in length and 6 inches wide, dark green above, and covered below with a thick flocculent chocolate coloured felt. It flowers in April, the corolla being milk-white, with a few purple specks peppered over the upper part, coalescing to form a deep blotch at the base’ (Kingdon Ward, Romance of Plant Hunting, p. 176). Plants raised from the seed of KW 4509 have proved to be of varying worth, but the best are very fine. Also referred to R. rex are plants raised from Dr Rock’s 03800. The following have received awards: KW 4509 from Embley Park, F.C.C. May 21, 1935; KW 4509 from Bodnant, A.M. April 16, 1946; Rock 03800, clone ‘Quartz’, from the Crown Estate Commissioners, Windsor Great Park, A.M. May 3, 1955 (R.C.Y.B.1956, fig. 25).