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Species In Our Midst
Rhododendron brachycarpum

by Ian Donovan

Rhododendron brachycarpum ssp. fauriei
Picture by S & J Perkins
Rhododendron brachycarpum ssp. fauriei in Salem, NH

Rhododendron brachycarpum

This wonderful plant is an elepidote (without scales on leaves). R. brachycarpum includes subspecies brachycarpum and its var. tigerstedtii (for introducer, Dr. Carl Tigerstedt of Finland) and subspecies fauriei (for discoverer Pére Louis F. Faurie). The specific epithet 'brachycarpum' is Greek for 'with short fruit'.

Slow to flower when young, the small-flowered trusses of 8-20 flowers often bloom late in the season. Flowers are white to pale rose, sometimes deep rose to yellowish with brownish-green spots, often in lines. The plant is compact and rounded when young and open grown. In ten years expect a plant of 4-8 feet. The plant has particularly attractive foliage with dark, shiny green leaves that look almost tropical; they are of medium size, oblong to obovate with rounded bases.

Young plants of subspecies fauriei and brachycarpum look similar, but ssp. brachycarpum develops a thin gray or tawny indumentum on the leaf underside as the plant ages, while ssp. fauriei's leaves remain glabrous (without hairs). Variety tigerstedtii has longer leaves, larger white flowers, and often exhibits more vigor.

These plants are native to central and southern Korea (660-5300 feet) and Dagelet Island (var. tigerstedtii), the Kuril Islands, and mountainous northern and central parts of Japan, often above the tree line (5500-7500 feet). Known as the 'Fujiyama' rhododendron in Japan, R. brachycarpum withstands wind and dry mineral soil better than most rhododendrons.

The species is notable for drooping, curled leaves at the slightest hint of colder temperatures. This survival technique is passed to progeny. Greer says brachycarpum is hardy to -10°F. Variety tigerstedtii is reported to have withstood -49°F at the Mustila Arboretum, Finland.

Selected hybrids with R brachycarpum heritage: 'Kentucky Cardinal' (Gable), 'Ethel V. Cary' (Cary), 'Cary's Yellow' (Cary), 'P.M.A. Tigerstedt' (Tigerstedt), 'Rowland P Cary' (Cary), 'Strawberries and Cream' (Cary), 'Arctic Dawn' (Behring), 'Queen Anne's' (Skinner), 'Arctic Snow' (Behring), 'Josephine V. Cary' (Cary), 'Elviira' (Tigerstedt), 'Saint Marys' (Skinner), 'Cary's Cream' (Cary), and 'William P. Cary' (Cary) (The late Edward A. Cary of Shrewsbury was a Massachusetts Chapter member.)

Ian Donovan, Pembroke, MA

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