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Rhododendron lepidostylum Balf. f. & Forr.

Modern name

Rhododendron lepidostylum Balf. f. & Forrest

An evergreen dwarf shrub of mounded habit, up to 3 ft high, more across; branchlets bristly and scaly. Leaves thin, ovate to obovate, obtuse at the apex, about 112 in. long and 58 in. wide, intensely glaucous above, especially when young and in the following winter, paler and scaly beneath, very bristly at the margin; petioles up to 38 in. long, bristly. Flowers solitary or in twos, terminal, borne in June on stalks 34 to 114 in. long. Calyx about 38 in. deep, scaly and bristly. Corolla funnel-shaped, five-lobed, about 112 in. wide, pale yellow or greenish yellow, with darker spotting, downy and scaly on the back. Stamens ten, hairy at the base. Ovary scaly and bristly; style slender, scaly at the base. (s.Trichocladum)

R. lepidostylum was described from a specimen collected by Forrest in 1919 on the Jangtzow Shan, Shweli-Salween divide, near the border between Yunnan and Burma, and was introduced by him from the same area in 1924 (F.24633). According to his field note it makes there a compact shrub 1 to 112 ft high, growing on humus-covered boulders and on ledges of cliffs at 11,000 to 12,000 ft. He made no mention of the striking colour of the foliage for which alone this species is valued in gardens, the flowers being negligible. This feature was apparently first remarked on in print by A. T. Johnson eleven years after the species was introduced: ‘Not much over 1 ft in height, but extending laterally to two or three feet, this Rhododendron would be well worth a place for its foliage alone, for the leaves are almost luminously glaucous, especially in winter. The leaves, ovate or obovate, are covered with silvery bristles, which, fringing the margins and stalks, render the foliage still more attractive’ (Gard. Chron., Vol. 98 (1935), p. 224). The remarkable foliage and characteristic habit of R. lepidostylum is well shown in the colour photograph of a clump at Brodick in the Isle of Arran, reproduced in the Year Book for 1951-2, fig. 55.

R. lepidostylum is perfectly hardy and starts into growth so late that the young growths are unlikely ever to be damaged by frost. It received an Award of Merit on June 24, 1969, when shown by Capt. Collingwood Ingram, Benenden, Kent.

R. caesium Hutch. – This unimportant species comes from the same region as R. lepidostylum and, like it, is evergreen or almost so. It is a shrub up to 4 ft high, with aromatic leaves oblong-lanceolate to elliptic, 112 to 2 in. long and 1 in. wide, dull green above, glaucous beneath. Flowers about three in a terminal truss opening in May or early June. Calyx minute, with a few bristly hairs. Corolla funnel-campanulate, greenish yellow or pale yellow with green markings, about 34 in. long. It was described from a plant at Exbury raised from Forrest 26798 collected in Yunnan near the border with Burma in latitude 25° 54′ at 10,000 ft. R. obovatum Hook, f.; R. lepidotum var. obovatum (Hook, f.) Hook, f.; R. salignum Hook, f.; R. lepidotum var. chloranthum Bot. Mag., t. 4802; R. elaeagnoides Hook, f.; R. lepidotum var. elaeagnoides (Hook, f.) Franch.; R. sinolepidotum Balf. f.; R. cremnastes Balf. f. & Farr.

A low evergreen or sometimes almost deciduous shrub up to 4 ft high; young shoots slender, warted, and scaly, sometimes bristly. Leaves varying from obovate to lanceolate, up to 1 in. or slightly more long, and about half as wide, densely scaly on both sides; stalks up to 18 in. long. Flowers produced in late May, June, or July, singly or a few together in terminal trusses; pedicels 12 to 112 in. long. Calyx five-lobed, scaly, sometimes fringed with hairs. Corolla flat and open (rotate), varying from yellow, greenish yellow, or white to crimson or shades of pink or purple. Stamens eight to ten, hairy in the lower part or for up to two-thirds of their length. Ovary scaly; style short, stout, bent. Bot. Mag., tt. 4657, 4802, 6450. (s. and ss. Lepidotum)

R. lepidotum is one of the most wide-ranging of rhododendrons, found from the N.W. Himalaya through S.E. Tibet, upper Burma, and N. Yunnan to S.W. Szechwan. It is mainly a subalpine species, occurring at up to 15,000 ft altitude. It was described in 1835 and introduced fifteen years later by J. D. Hooker from Sikkim, but probably most of the cultivated plants are from seeds collected in China. Both in the wild and in cultivation it is a variable species, especially in flower-colour, but no varieties were recognised by Cowan and Davidian in their revision of the Lepidotum series.

cv. ‘Reuthe’s Purple’. – Flowers purplish red (R.H.S. Colour Chart 80A). Award of Merit May 22, 1967.

R. lowndesii Davidian – Near to R. lepidotum, but deciduous, with bristly leaf-margins and petioles and the scales on the leaf-undersides more widely spaced. It is a dwarf shrub, up to 1 ft high in the wild, with dull yellow flowers marked with crimson on the upper lobes. It was discovered by Col. Donald Lowndes in the Marsyandi valley, Nepal, behind the Annapurna massif, and was later collected in other inner valleys of central and western Nepal. These inner valleys north of the rain screen are rather arid, and the deciduous habit of this species is perhaps an adaptation to the local climate.

R. lowndesii flowered at Wisley and Edinburgh in 1956, raised from seeds collected in 1952 by Polunin, Sykes and Williams. A larger quantity was introduced in 1954 by Stainton, Sykes and Williams. The species is difficult to cultivate, especially in the southern parts of the country. Peter Cox recommends a perfectly drained soil and a position facing north but with plenty of light and no overhang (Dwarf Rhododendrons, p. 124).



Other species in the genus