An evergreen shrub or small tree up to 20 ft high; bark peeling. Leaves large, slighdy obovate, rounded at the apex, tapering at the base, 6 to 12 in. long, 3 to 4 in. wide, very leathery, dark green and glossy above, with brownish-red down beneath; stalk very thick, 1 to 2 in. long. Flowers rosy lilac or magenta-purple, 11⁄2 to 2 in. across, packed in a rounded truss about 6 in. wide. Calyx very small. Corolla bell-shaped, with eight to ten lobes; stamens about twice as many, shorter than the corolla. Ovary downy. Bot. Mag., t. 5552. (s. Falconeri)
Native of the Himalaya from Nepal to some way east of Bhutan; introduced by J. D. Hooker in 1850 from Sikkim, where it is according to him one of the characteristic plants of the interior at 10,000 to 12,000 ft. ‘It is found alike at the bottom of the valleys, on the rocky spurs or slopes of the hills, in open places, or in the gloomy pine-groves, often forming an impenetrable thicket, not merely of twigs and foliage, but of thickset limbs and stout trunks, only to be severed with difficulty, on account of the toughness of the wood. As it is easily worked, and not apt to be split. it is admirably adapted for use in the parched and arid climate of Tibet; and the Bhoteas make from it cups, spoons, and ladles, and the saddle, by means of which loads are slung upon the “yak”. The leaves are employed as platters, and serve for lining the baskets which contain the mashed pulp of Arisaema root (a kind of Colocass); and the customary present of butter or curd is always enclosed in this glossy foliage.’ (Hooker)
With its large rich green leaves and its beautiful bark, R. hodgsonii is one of the noblest of rhododendrons and a worthy companion to R. falconeri, which Hooker introduced at the same time. It is hardy enough, but does not succeed so well at Kew as it does at Edinburgh, where there are several fine plants 15 ft or slightly more high. In the Atlantic zone it has attained a height of 15 ft and a spread of 37 ft at Stonefield, Argyll, and 25 ft at Logan in Wigtownshire.
In Rhododendrons 1973 (p. 43), Roy Lancaster remarks that in the part of eastern Nepal visited by him in 1973 two forms of R. hodgsonii occur, one with deep magenta or reddish-purple flowers in congested heads, the other with larger, pink flowers, in looser trusses.