An evergreen shrub with stout twigs up to 1⁄4 in. thick, sparsely set with glandular hairs when young, soon glabrous. Leaves oblong, rounded to heart-shaped at the base; rounded, with a short blunt tip at the apex; up to 31⁄2 in. long by 11⁄3 in. wide; glabrous and dark green above, paler beneath; veins in thirteen to fifteen pairs; stalk 1⁄3 to 2⁄3 in. long. Flowers eight to ten in a rounded truss 4 in. across. Calyx minute, usually glandular. Corolla broadly funnel-shaped, seven-lobed, 2 in. wide, the tube scarcely 1 in. long. In the bud state the flower is almost blood-red, changing when open to carmine, then to a lilac shade. Stamens fourteen, about as long as the corolla-tube, white and glabrous; anthers purplish brown. Ovary and style glabrous, the latter longer than the stamens. Bot. Mag., t. 8518. (s. Fortunei ss. Oreodoxa)
Native of W. Szechwan and Kansu; discovered by Père David near Mupin in 1869; introduced in 1904 by Wilson for Messrs Veitch, who appear to have distributed it at first as “R. davidii”, a name properly belonging to a different species. It first flowered in their Coombe Wood nursery in 1913. Lionel de Rothschild wrote of this rhododendron: ‘It is one of the first species to open its flowers, which it often does at the end of February or early March, and therefore only fitted for a sheltered garden and a sheltered situation, but the flowers in bud are more frost-resisting than any other rhododendron I know; the flowers open from the bud and show individual bells tightly folded and bright red, and in this shape it will often stand several degrees of frost without being injured, taking advantage of the first few days of mild weather to show its beauty.’ Farrer, who reintroduced R. oreodoxa from Kansu, described it as ‘a tidy, tall, steep-domed bush’ or ‘a no less tidy, well-furnished tree of some fourteen feet with a comely rounded head’. This is also the habit of the cultivated plants from the Wilson introduction.
R. oreodoxa received an Award of Merit when shown from Exbury on April 6, 1937.