An evergreen shrub or small tree up to 20 ft high but 5 ft high or less in exposed situations; young shoots glandular-bristly. Leaves oblong-elliptic or broad-elliptic, rounded at both ends, 21⁄4 to 5 in. long, 13⁄4 to 3 in. wide, margins bristly at first, glabrous above when mature except for scattered hairs and glands on the midrib, undersurface at first covered with bladder-like (vesicular) hairs which later collapse and become dry, resinous dots; petiole glandular-hairy, 3⁄8 to 3⁄4 in. long. Flowers three to five in a terminal umbellate inflorescence, opening in April; pedicels 3⁄8 in. long, glandular-bristly. Calyx up to 1⁄2 in. long, usually tinged with red. Corolla broadly funnel-campanulate, five-lobed, red in the bud, opening rose-pink to almost white, banded with pink on the outside and speckled crimson inside, about 2 in. long, 21⁄2 in. wide. Ovary conoid, glandular; style glandular at the base. (s. Barbatum ss. Glischrum)
R. hirtipes was discovered by Kingdon Ward in 1924 near Tsela Dzong, in S.E. Tibet, in the valley of the Tsangpo, and was introduced by him (KW 5659). It ‘grew some 20 ft high and had large rounded leaves and loose trusses of three or four big bell-shaped flowers of the most delicate shell pink and ivory white, arranged in alternating broad bands. It was, I think, the most bewitching Rhododendron we saw’ (Riddle of Tsangpo Gorges, p. 45; Gard. Chron., Vol. 87 (1930), p. 330). It was later reintroduced by Ludlow, Sherriff, and Taylor from the same area. It is not common in cultivation but judging from the plant in the Valley Gardens, Windsor Great Park, raised from the original introduction, it is quite as beautiful as its discoverer had promised, though some plants are said to be of little worth. Another fine form was raised by A. C. and J. F. A. Gibson, Glenarn, Rhu, Dunbartonshire, from Ludlow, Sherriff, and Taylor 3624. This received an Award of Merit on April 13, 1965 (clone ‘Ita’).