A dwarf evergreen shrub, forming a low dense mound (but sometimes prostrate and mat-forming); young shoots slender, densely scaly, not or scarcely bristly. Leaves elliptic, oblong-elliptic, or sometimes broadest slightly below the middle, rounded to acute and mucronate at the apex, 1⁄4 to 7⁄8 in. long, about half as wide, upper surface glossy, usually more or less scaly, undersurface densely brown-scaly, margins bristly or glabrous; petiole about 1⁄6 in. long, scaly, usually without bristles. Flowers solitary, in pairs or in threes on glabrous or bristly reddish stalks up to 11⁄4 in. long. Calyx tinged with red, five-lobed to the base, up to 3⁄8 in. long, margins bristly. Corolla open funnel-shaped to almost rotate, about 11⁄2 in. wide, in some shade of purplish crimson, spotted with reddish purple or red-magenta, downy and scaly on the outside. Ovary scaly; style red, glabrous. (s. Saluenense)
R. keleticum was discovered by Forrest in 1919 in Tsarong, S.E. Tibet, on the Salween-Kiuchiang divide, growing in ‘open, peaty, stony pasture and on cliffs and screes’. He introduced it from this locality in the same year, and all his later sendings (and Kingdon Ward’s 5430) are from the same region, though it is also found in bordering parts of Burma. It is perfectly hardy and one of the best of all rhododendrons for the rock garden, quickly forming a dense bush and flowering in late May or June when the danger of spring frosts is past. It received an Award of Merit in 1928, when shown by Messrs Gill and Son of Falmouth. A fine form was introduced by Rock in 1948, during his expedition for the American Rhododendron Society.
R. nitens Hutch. – Scarcely differing from R. keleticum in its botanical characters but more erect and flowering even later (June-July). Described from a cultivated plant, raised from KW 5842. The seeds were collected by Kingdon Ward in November 1922 on the Taru Tra, west of the Taron (Kiuchiang), at 12,000 ft, during his journey from Yunnan to Fort Hertz (Putao) in Burma.
R. radicans Balf. f. & Forr. – This species too is closely allied to R. keleticum, and comes from the same area, but has relatively narrower leaves up to 5⁄8 in. long, one-third or less wide, and is of more prostrate habit. The most prostrate form is Forrest’s original introduction (F.19919) of 1921, from open, stony moorland at 15,000 altitude, on the Salween-Kiuchiang divide, some twenty miles south of the type-locality of R. keleticum. It makes an interesting shrub for the rock garden, soon covering a wide area on a damp ledge, but does not flower freely in some gardens. Other forms are nearer to R. keleticum in habit and not so good.