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Rhododendron and
Azalea News

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Winter 2010  Vol. 13  No. 3
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Fire cracker rhododendron

Don Wallace, of the Eureka Chapter, describes one of his choice rhodies: R. spinuliferum.  Commonly known as the 'Fire Cracker Rhododendron', this species hardly looks like a rhododendron.  The flowers emerge as red-orange tubular structures with the pistil protruding like a fuse.  These funny-looking flowers cover the shrub in profusion from March, and seem to be immune to frosts or freezes.

longest blooming rhododendron...


Sometimes this species begins blooming in late January or in February...and continues for months.  We think it is the longest blooming rhododendron there is.  The foliage is heavily textured and very thin and pointed...adding to the interest.  The winter foliage color can be a dark orange-purple color, giving it contrast to other evergreens.  After flowering, the emerging new growth is very translucent with interesting patterns of red overlaid on the new light-green leaves.

where did the rhododendron come from...


Rhododendron spinuliferum was first discovered by Abbe Delavay in South Yunnan in 1981 and was named by Franchet in Paris in 1895.  However, this plant was introduced to cultivation by Maurice de Vilmorin in France in 1907.  Hardy to 5 degrees F, this plant will fare well in the Oregon/Washington area and is an excellent choice for the North Coast Garden.


Christmas Holly


Holly has been used to decorate European homes since Druid times (a pre-Christian religious order of priests among the ancient Celts of Gaul, Britain, and Ireland).  Over the centuries and with the advent of Christianity, many associations have developed concerning holly decorations at Christmas time.


The evergreen leaves have come to represent everlasting life, and some traditions say that holly made up Christ's crown of thorns.  The legend holds that all holly berries were originally yellow...but turned red from Christ's wounds.  Perhaps the symbolism associated with holly is less important now, but the bright red berries and lustrous green leaves still make welcome additions to winter flower arrangements and our Christmas decorations.

other values of holly...

In addition to their decorative use at Christmas time, hollies are prized by carpenters for their fine, dense wood.  Leaves from some holly species have been used to make tea, and their flowers are very attractive to bees, yielding fine honey.  Where they are hardy, they also make lovely large specimen trees to the landscape.  We are most familiar with the red-berried varieties, but there are also very attractive orange-and yellow-fruited hollies.

where does the holly grow?

Commercial holly sold by florists at Christmas time is harvested from Ilex aquifiolium, the English holly.  In Canada, commercial holly orchards are located in the mildest areas of British Columbia, most are on Vancouver Island, but there are a few orchards in the lower Fraser Valley.  English holly is best grown in fertile, deep, slightly acid soils that have good drainage.  They like moderate growing temperatures, neither very hot nor very cold, and even moisture is required throughout the growing season.

It takes eight to ten years after planting before the trees are large enough to start harvesting, and often plants are 15 years old before major harvesting begins.  Commercial growers want to know the exact characteristics of the holly they grow, so typically they plant grafted plants or plants that were started from cuttings.

colors change from season to season...


Growers play a guessing game in selecting varieties for future harvesting.  They have to predict what will be fashionable in the florist trade in a decade's time.

I remember talking to a commercial grower who was trying to decide whether or not he should top-graft his green-leafed holly trees to change them over to variegated types because of the rising trend towards the use of more variegated plants.  He had planted mostly solid green forms...which at the time of planting were what the florist trade preferred.  As well, growers have to decide on the number of prickly-leaved or smooth-leaved varieties to plant.

decide ratio of male to female...


Another decision to make at planting is to balance the number of male to female plants in an orchard.  Most English holly is dioecious...that is...some plants are male and have only staminate flowers that provide pollen, and other plants are female and have pistillate flowers.  In order for berries to form on the female trees, pollen has to be transferred from the staminate to the pistillate flowers.  A ratio of about one male tree to every fifty or sixty female trees is commonly planted in large commercial orchards, but this ratio can vary tremendously depending on the size of the planting.

For home growers, if berries are wanted on English hollies, care must be taken to plant both a female and a male tree.  Watch for the identifying tags on plants in the garden centers that tell you which plants are male and which are female.  Happily, there are now some holly varieties that have perfect flowers, so berries will be borne on a single tree.

how do growers make the most money?


Growers are paid based on the weight and quality of a crop.  Good berry set adds to the growers want a balance of berried branches to leafy branches in order to make the most money.  Of course, the overall quality of the leaves and the ratio of variegated and dark green branches also determine the crops' value.

holly is hand cut...


Holly is cut by hand in late November.  The branches have to be handled carefully to avoid having the prickly leaves physically damage other leaves, and to prevent knocking off the berries.  After cutting, holly is washed to rid the leaves of algae or dirt.  The leaves are also inspected for obvious damaged areas and any individual leaves with leaf miner spots or other blemishes are removed.

prolonging life of holly...


For floral arrangements we want the berries to stay on the branches as long as possible...but once holly is cut, the berries start falling off.  To prevent both premature berry drop and leaf discoloration, many growers dip cut holly branches in a weak solution of naphthalene acetic acid.  This material is related to the naturally occurring auxin compound bound in plants, and it can prolong the useful life of cut holly by several weeks.  After dipping, the branches are allowed to partially air dry, and then are boxed for shipping.  Garden centers sometimes sell a holly dip product for homeowners.

tips for home use...


A few suggestions:

  • to use cut holly in floral arrangements, re-cut the stem ends using sharp shears.
  • try to make the cuts on the diagonal to expose as much wood as possible to the water.
  • make sure the arrangements have ample fresh water, or if oasis is used, it should be kept well-moistened at all times.
  • arrangements will last longer if they are kept in a cool location.
  • well-conditioned holly should last for at least three weeks...if kept cool.
  • for holly wreaths or other outdoor decorations, the cool weather helps to preserve their appearance.  If exposed to very cold weather, the berries will freeze and as they thaw, they turn black.
  • to prolong the life of your wreath...if possible...keep in a protected location...for example between a main door and the storm door.

Have a wonderful holiday season...Enjoy...Enjoy...Enjoy.

--Norma Senn



The white rhododendron

This is the season for red, white, and pink to be the choice of colors.  And, of course, when these colors can be related to rhododendrons...what more could we ask for.

Wonderful things are found in attics and who knows other places. Merilee Mulvey of the Portland Chapter has become interested in genealogy and came upon the beautiful poem below in the 1947 Siuslaw Pioneer Booklet.  That's a goodly number of years ago.

"You ask me who I am?  I am the Chieftain's name is Oreawna.  You ask me where my home is?  My home!  There!  On that mountain where the sunlight lingers.  There!  Where the river meets the sea.  There!  Far; far in the distance where the earth meets the sky.

Here!  On this ground!  Wherever my foot treads, wherever a bird sings for me, wherever a flower blooms for my eye, there is my home.

"Years, years my fathers lived here.  That orb of light that beams for you, shone for them. For them the ocean sang, for them the starlight gleamed in the beautify of the midnight sky...for them bloomed on these hills the flower you have named the Rhododendron.

The Great Father had said, "Be there sunshine, be there flowers to gladden the hearts of my children!  And then the beautiful blossoms came...symbols of the Father's love for his children, and every flower was white to signify the purity of his children's hearts.

"Years, years went by.  Many a cloud came, many a storm, many a wicked hand! Many a flower was crushed, its purity was soiled and its color changed.  But search!  And you shall yet find a White Rhododendron."

Note from Merilee: This poem was given as an oration at the Rhododendron Festival in 1909 by a little Indian girl named Katherine Reed.  It was written especially for her by her teacher, Laura Dahlin.  Katherine attended grade school in Florence, finishing at Chemawa Indian school.  She entered a training hospital and became a graduate nurse.  She finally became head nurse at Tohatchi Hospital, Window Rock, Arizona, from which position she resigned in June, 1944.

Precious memories!  Food for thought this holiday season.  White with purity.


An the azaleas in National Arboretum


This is an important concern about the azaleas in the National Arboretum, Washington,  D.C.  The message comes from Steve Henning and gives a sincere appeal for all to become involved.  Here are a few facts:

  • On November 8, Scott Aker, the garden leader for the National Arboretum had received approval of his plan to remove most of the azaleas on the Glenn Dale hillside.

This Glenn Dale Hillside is the marquee exhibit for The Arboretum when it bursts into bloom each Spring and is a national treasure.  What makes this more tragic, is that only one horticulturist manages the 20-acre azalea section with a group of volunteers that work year-around.  This means that Scott Aker's plan is to spend extra money to bring in a crew with saws, axes, and herbicides in this trouble economy.  Then, the Arboretum will still have to restore the ravaged hillside and maintain it anyway...but without the help of the volunteers who love azaleas.

  • We can stop this insanity.  How?  We need your help.  We need overwhelming pressure from all sides.

Of course, U.S. Congress has ultimate control.  The U.S.D.A. Administrators run the National Arboretum.  The Washington Post is the D.C. area newspaper and reaches both the local population and national news sources.  And, the Friends of the National Arboretum are influential in providing private funding wield serious power in what is done.

  • Write a letter in your own words to your:  Senators, Congressmen, U.S.D.A. Administrators, and to...

The Washington Post, Letters to the Editor

Adrian Higgins, Gardening Columnists, and

Friends of the National Arboretum
Kathy Horan, Executive Director
3501 New York Avenue, N.E.
Washington, D.C.  20002

Dr. Colien Hefferan, Director,
3501 New York Avenue, N.E
Washington, D.C.  2002

  • Don Hyatt created the one-page, Save The Azaleas Fact Sheet, to include when asking other people to help or a RTF document version that any editor can open to help in preparing your own letter.

The Holly and the Ivy


Brenda Macdonald, of the Mason-Dixon Chapter, has always wondered about the holly and ivy combination.  She did a little research and reports her findings.

I had always wondered about the cultural history of the combination of holly and ivy...and Christmas.  They seemed such an unlikely pair of dark and woodland plants to celebrate an event which took place in the arid hills of the middle East.

I became even more curious when I realized that one of my favorite Christmas carols, the beautiful and haunting, "The Holly and the Ivy," doesn't actually mention ivy at all.  It is a sort of ghost plant, bolding named as part of the title, but then only hinted at as some sort of holly rival in the body of the song.

Of course, the truth is that both these plants, whose berries were visible all through the cold and fruitless winter, were used as mid-winter talismans and decorations long before they came to be associated with Christianity.

the rivalry


There appears to have been a long tradition of rivalry between the two plants, as to which one should have pride of place on the walls.  And then, somehow genders were assigned to each of the plants, with the upright, strong-wooded holly being male and the pliant, clinging ivy being female...neither description going on to mention, however, the painfully armored leaves of he holly tree, or the immense and strangulating strength of the ivy vine.

a little history to help appreciate


Apparently remnants of those pagan origins insinuated themselves into other Christian events.  For as late as the 18th Century one of the pre-Lent activities ion the small villages in Kent was the burning of an effigy Holly-boy by all the girls in the village, and of an effigy Ivy-girl, by the boys of the village.

Of course, the blood-red berries and thorny leaves of the holly made it much more accessible for absorption into Christian mythology than did the blue-black berries and plain leaves of the ivy.

to total up


The result appears to be that we are left with the iconic holy and a tag-along ivy, commemorating an event which took place hundreds of years after and thousands of miles away from the place where these two plants held sway over the long northern winters.



It's THAT time of the year.


Norma Senn in Canada has real fun writing about Rhododendrons and reported the following for The Yak newsletter in December 2007.  She has fun with her friend, Colleen Slater.

Look it may even find some new rhodies you like as gifts this year!

Having attended many FSRS December parties (and June picnics), I can say with confidence, that most of us enjoy our 'Christmas Cheer'...and, whether it is in the form of 'Apple Brandy', 'Brandywine' or 'Sparkling Burgundy', we all leave with a nice 'Warm Glow'.  I have noticed we like our snacks, to, so good menu additions include 'Peppermint Twist' and 'Sugar and Spice' 'Cookies'.

One of the things I like best at this time of the year is that the season if full of 'Glad Tidings', like those first heralded with the appearance of the 'Royal Star' when the 'Yaku Angels' sang 'Hallelujah', be of good 'Cheer', with 'Peace on Earth'.

Most of us spend time thinking about finding perfect family gifts.  I do not know if they really like it very much, but lots of Dads are destined to receive some 'Old Spice'.  Mothers, of course, get 'Perfume', and for children, a 'Teddy Bear' is always a popular gift.

Family activities are important, too, and many of us like to watch the class movie, 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens.  In addition to the usual shows, you can also watch Olive, the Other Reindeer, a" new" children's classic.  And, did you know that when he was just a fawn and before his nose turned red, 'Rudolph's Orange' nose still glowed?  Perhaps your family likes to gather together to read stories like 'Hansel' and 'Gretsel' to your children and grandchildren.

While we are out shopping, the Salvation 'Army Bell Ringers' will be using lots of 'Jingle Bells' to collect money for those in need.  However, such activities are weather dependent on a 'Snowstorm' may keep us all at home.

At the North Pole, it is a busy time for Santa and his helpers, but if there is lots of Arctic Snow, rose Elf and her friends will take some time to play, making lots of 'Boule de Neige' for a friendly snowball fight.  Here on the Coast, we usually have a green Christmas, so for us, Falling Snow at Christmas makes for a very magical 'Evening Glow'.

Now, the descriptions...some may be on your Want List!

  • 'Apple Brandy':  compact yak hybrid with silver tomentum and silvery pink flowers.
  • 'Arctic Snow':  late May for bloom; flowers are white with yellow markings; fragrant.
  • 'Bellringer':  soft, creamy white flowers on an attractive plant.
  • 'Boule de Neige':  a tough plant, cold hardy and also able to tolerate heat; flower trusses look like snowballs.
  • 'Brandywine':  mall, cream-colored flowers edged in pink, to 3 feet (pubescens x keiskei)
  • 'Christmas Cheer':  early, pink flowered caucasium hybrid.
  • 'Cookie':  fragrant, large flowers of rose-spotted maroon.
  • 'Evening Glow':  compact growth, late blooming time, and resistance to heat stress this a good yellow.
  • 'Falling Snow':  a yak hybrid with white flowers, many flowers/truss; plant habit is good.
  • 'Glad Tidings':  large flowers of blended cream and pink; also has large leaves ('China' x williamsianum).
  • 'Hansel' and 'Gretsel':  Sister seedlings, a Lem cross between bureavii and fabia.   Both have good foliage with nice indumentum, and flowers are orange with pastel shading.
  • 'Jingle Bells':  flowers open reddish orange then change to yellow; a fairly low-growing plant.
  • 'Old Spice':  large, scented pink flowers shading to apricot (decorum x 'Azor').
  • 'Perfume':  another fragrant hybrid, this time a fortunei cross.  Best grown with overhead shade.
  • 'Peppermint Stick': as you might guess, it has white flowers edge with red.
  • 'Royal Star':  'Moser's Maroon'; x unknown; deep purple flowers with dark blotch; plant is compact in habit.
  • 'Sparkling Burgundy':  a May blooming hybrid of 'Purple Splendour' x macrophyllum.
  • 'Rudolph's Orange':  flowers are light orange with pink shading.
  • 'Rose Elf': a sweet, small plant; flowers are orchid pink; a racemosum x pemakoense hybrid.
  • 'Snowstorm':  another yak hybrid; the flowers are fragrant, white with rose spotting.
  • 'Sugar and Spice':  Greer describes this as a fantastic hybrid!  Bright creamy white flowers with a golden brown blotch; dark slender leaves (Greer really likes this hybrid.)
  • 'Teddy Bear':  a bureavii x yak cross; lovely cinnamon-red indumentum; soft pink flowers on a compact plant.
  • 'Warm Glow':  the pale orange flowers with darker throat are held in a lax truss; a cross between dichroanthum and 'Vida'.
  • 'Yaku Angel':  lovely plant with narrow, re-curved leaves; tan indumentum; flowers are pink in bud and open to clear white.

Now, have you pick out what you would like.  Personally, some of them have real interest to to enhance my 63x103 ft. space! Hope you find one you like.
And, another thought:  MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!


Something to ponder


Reaching out to others doesn’t mean
we adopt all their problems as our own...
Sometimes we can help others
through the smallest...or silliest...
acts of kindness.


American Rhododendron Society
Executive Director: P.O. Box 525,  Niagara Falls, NY 14304
Ph: 416-424-1942   Fax: 905-262-1999   E-Mail:
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