According to the International Rhododendron Registry, which is held by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), there are over 28,000 cultivars of the Rhododendron species.
Rhododendrons have been extensively cultivated in the UK and natural hybrids have now appeared in areas where different ranges of species overlap, and many types of Rhododendron are now bred for their flowers, ornamental leaves, bark and stem quality!
Genus is a biological classification, thus, there is an ongoing realignment within horticulture meaning the original “Ledum genus” should now be reclassified to the subgenus of Rhododendron. Occurring mostly in the northern hemisphere, Asia and Australia; there are no species of Rhododendron native to South America and Africa.
Azaleas are a subgenus of Rhododendron; both of which are either shrubs or small trees, thus the leaves of these wonderfully sounding, beautifully looking pieces of nature are spirally arranged and they are often noted for their many clusters of large flowers.
Alpine species are usually much smaller and some other species of Rhododendron in the UK are invasive which means there is a preservation and restoration process required for their protection.
As many species of Rhododendron are introduced plants, spreading in woodland areas and replacing the natural understory, it has become an ecological management issue. The problem being the roots are difficult to eradicate especially if the Rhododendrons make new shoots.
There are a number of insects that either target Rhododendrons or will opportunistically attack them. Many borers, various weevils and caterpillars have become major pests attacking the species and spoiling their beauty.
Rhododendron species are always used as food plants by many butterflies and moths though major disease such as root rot, stem and twig fungus does affect various kinds and sadly they can easily be suffocated by other plants.
Extensively used for ornamental landscaping, many Rhododendron species are now commercially grown and in India, flowers from the Rhododendron have been used to make popular fruit and flower wines; Rhododendron is the national flower of Nepal and is often pickled or added to fish curry in the belief that it will soften the bones!
Luckily, the plant does have anti-inflammatory and other medicinal potential, though some Rhododendron species are poisonous because of the toxin in the pollen and nectar; people have been known to become ill from eating honey made by bees feeding on this plant.
Rhodon means “rose” in Ancient Greek, dendron means “tree” and rhododendron ponticum is the scientific name used by horticulturalists at the RHS.
Aren’t these purpley flowers just the most beautifully arranged part of the local park?