A small evergreen tree, so far around 20 ft high in cultivation; young stems stout, covered with a thin grey wool. Leaves very thick and rigid, up to 12 in. long and 21⁄4 to 4 in. wide in the type, rounded at the apex, tapered towards the base, glossy and dark green above, with impressed lateral veins, undersurface covered with a thin, shining, silvery-white indumentum; petiole up to 15⁄8 in. long, thinly grey-woolly. Flowers in a terminal umbel of up to twenty, opening in April or May; pedicels up to 2 in. long, woolly. Calyx minute. Corolla pink or sometimes white edged with pink, with a crimson blotch at the base, obliquely campanulate, about 21⁄2 in. long and wide. Stamens fifteen or sixteen. Ovary clad with matted hairs; style glabrous, about as long as the corolla, with a large discoid stigma. (s. Grande)
R. mollyanum was described in 1953 from a plant at Brodick in the Isle of Arran, raised from Kingdon Ward’s seed no. 6261, collected in the middle of December 1924 near Gompo Ne, S.E. Tibet, above the Tsangpo gorge. Two months earlier he had found trees on the southern side of the Doshong La, none of which had flowered or fruited that year and, judging from his field note, he considered these to represent the same species as those from which he later took seed, though they bore leaves much larger than in cultivated R. mollyanum – 2 ft long and 8 or 9 in. wide. Owing to some unexplained confusion the field specimen under KW 6261 is R. exasperatum and none corresponding to R. mollyanum has been traced. The type of the species is therefore a specimen taken from the Brodick plant.
R. mollyanum is allied to both R. grande and R. sinogrande, differing from the former in the larger more leathery leaves, rounded at the apex, from the latter in the narrower and smaller leaves and fewer stamens; and from both in the pink flowers.
R. mollyanum is perfectly hardy and grows well in woodland south of London. There is some variation in the colouring of the flowers and in the size of the leaves, but they are never quite as long, and certainly not as wide, as on the plants described by Kingdon Ward, but it was not from these that the seeds were taken. A First Class Certificate was given on April 9, 1957, to the clone ‘Benmore’, when a truss was exhibited at a meeting of the Rhododendron and Camellia Committee held in Scotland. It was raised from seed at the Younger Botanic Garden, Benmore, about fifteen years previously.
R. mollyanum is named after the late Duchess of Montrose, known as Molly to her family but, as Kingdon Ward pointed out, the name is of very doubtful validity, since the almost identical name R. mollianum had been published many years previously for a New Guinea rhododendron.
R. pudorosum Cowan – Near to R. grande, but with pink or magenta-pink flowers and with the stems densely covered with bud-scales, which persist for two or three years. Discovered by Ludlow and Sherriff in 1936 on the Tibetan side of the Assam Himalaya, above the Chayul and Tsari rivers, tributaries of the Subansiri. It is in cultivation and flowered at Edinburgh in 1972.