An evergreen shrub up to 15 or 20 ft high in the wild; young shoots sometimes glandular, otherwise glabrous. Leaves thinly leathery, glabrous, varying in shape from nearly orbicular to ovate, oblong-elliptic or oblong, rounded to obtuse at the apex, rounded, truncate or somewhat cordate at the base, 11⁄4 to 43⁄4 in. long, 1 to 21⁄2 in. wide, dark or medium green above, paler, sometimes rather glaucous, beneath; petiole 3⁄8 to 11⁄4 in. long. Flowers in a loose terminal truss of up to fourteen, opening in May; pedicels up to almost 2 in. long, usually glandular. Calyx five-lobed up to 1⁄2 in. long, usually glandular. Corolla five-lobed, cup-shaped to saucer-shaped, up to 21⁄2 in. across (exceptionally to 3 in. across), pure yellow, sometimes with a crimson blotch inside at the base. Stamens ten. Ovary conoid, glandular; style glandular from base to tip. Bot. Mag., n.s., t. 587. (s. Thomsonii ss. Souliei)
R. wardii is a species of wide range, from S.W. Szechwan westward through N.W. Yunnan to S.E. Tibet, in the provinces of Tsarong, Kongbo, and Takpo, but has not been reported from Burma. It occurs at 10,000 to 14,000 ft, in open thickets or occasionally as undergrowth in coniferous forest or deciduous woodland. It was discovered by one of the French missionaries, but was first validly described from specimens collected in 1913 by Kingdon Ward and by Forrest, both of whom sent seeds in that year. The former found it on the Doker La and around Atuntze, in the north-western corner of Yunnan; the latter 120 miles farther east, in the mountains of the north-east Yangtse bend. There have been many further sendings since then, the most recent being by Ludlow and Sherriff shortly before and after the second world war.
From R. souliei and R. puralbum, its nearest allies, R. wardii differs only in the colour of its flowers. From R. campylocarpum to which it is also nearly related, it can be distinguished by the style being glandular throughout and by the shallower corolla, but in some plants from Ludlow and Sherriff seeds the corolla is rather deeper than is typical for this species. It also resembles R. campylocarpum in the range of flower-colour, from pale creamy yellow, lemon, or sulphur to deep primrose, and in the frequent presence of a crimson or maroon blotch at the base of the corolla.
R. wardii is perfectly hardy near London and needs only light shade. Some of the strains introduced by Ludlow, Sherriff, and Taylor are valuable for the small garden, or one where late frosts are frequent, as they flower late in May and are of bushy compact habit, besides being beautiful in flower. All the seed collected came from the Tibetan Himalaya near Molo (c. 94°E.), some of it from as high as 13,000 ft.
Several forms of R. wardii have received Awards of Merit:
April 27, 1926, as R. croceum, flowers lemon-yellow, and as R. astrocalyx, flowers bright yellow with a small crimson flash (both shown by A. M. Williams, Werrington Park, Cornwall);
May 19, 1931, as R. wardii KW 4170, flowers bright yellow, green-flushed, raised from seeds collected by Kingdon Ward in the Muli area of S.W. Szechwan in 1921 (Lionel de Rothschild, Exbury);
May 5,1959, as R. wardii “Ellestee”, probably from seeds collected by Ludlow, Sherriff, and Taylor, flowers clear yellow with a deep crimson blotch (Collingwood Ingram, Benenden, Kent);
May 20, 1963, as R. wardii ‘Meadow Pond’, from Ludlow, Sherriff, and Elliot 15764, flowers primrose-yellow with a deep crimson blotch (Crown Estate Commissioners, Windsor Great Park).
R. litiense Balf. f. & Forr. – Closely allied to R. wardii and, like it, having the style glandular to the tip; differing in the always oblong leaves, markedly glaucous beneath, and in the rather smaller, less saucer-shaped corollas. For a discussion of the taxonomic position of this species see R.Y.B. 1951-2, p. 157. It is a native of N.W. Yunnan, discovered and introduced by Forrest. Award of Merit, May 19, 1931, when shown by Lionel de Rothschild, Exbury, and a First Class Certificate in 1953 on the same date.