Just before moving to my current residence, about a month ago already, I had a box arrive. This was a very special box, all the way from the Rhododendron Species Foundation in Federal Way, Washington. I ordered several plants from their fall catalog this summer and had been eagerly anticipating the arrival of my new plants.
Oh that feeling when a box of plants arrives at your doorstep!
Here they are all unpacked and taking in some light and fresh air, or at least fresher air than what was in the box. Five of the eight plants I ordered are vireyas, my obsession with these tropical rhododendrons only inflamed by my visit to the Rutherford Conservatory earlier in the summer. In addition to the several rare and unusual vireyas, I also ordered a Rhododendron dalhousiae var. rhabdotum, a tender species with some of the largest and most beautiful flowers in the entire genus. You can see a picture of the trumpet-shaped white flowers with red stripes here.
The remaining two plants rounding out my order are a couple of exciting unknowns. The descriptions in the catalog said they were either species of Agapetes or Vaccinium, both closely related. This first unknown has not even flowered yet, meaning that if I can get it to flower it's pretty much guaranteed that I'll be the first one on my block, and probably Wisconsin, to see its flowers. I do love the fuzzy stems and the 1 to 1.5-inch blue-green leaves. It dropped a few leaves the other day, from underwatering, I think. As these plants are so unfamiliar to me, there's a steep learning curve as to their care.
The second unknown Agapetes/Vaccinium species has much smaller leaves, only about half an inch long, but they are a rich, dark green. They are very thick and textured with deeply impressed veins. The description of this plant at least included information on the flowers, urn-shaped, pure white bells with red corolla margins. These are followed by translucent white berries. I'm picturing flowers similar in shape to Agapetes serpens or 'Ludgvan Cross' but with the colors listed in the description above. I can tell that it will be a sprawling spider of a plant, as I cut two long shoots back by about two thirds after removing it from the box. In the last couple days I've noticed a bud starting to swell on the shoot pictured here (this is an older picture, so no swelling bud to be seen) so at least this one seems to be happy, or close to it.
Now to highlight the vireyas that arrived with the order. The three pictured in the front row here are, left to right, Rhododendron gracilentum, Rhododendron superbum, and Rhododendron acrophilum. What you unfortunately can't see in this picture are the coppery/rusty scales coating the leaves of Rhododendron superbum. The large white flowers are also fragrant.
And finally, perhaps the plants I am most excited about, the two plants with the most gorgeous foliage. The first, Rhododendron rushforthii, with leaves of pure silver held by chartreuse petioles. Unlike most vireyas, this species can even handle a little frost. I saw it planted outside at the RSBG, where it is rated as hardy to about 10 degrees Fahrenheit. This is unfortunately the kind of plant that is lost in the recent erratic and cold winters experienced in the PNW.
And last, but most definitely not least, Rhododendron himantodes. I fell hard for this species after seeing it in the Rutherford Conservatory (see earlier link). The needle-like leaves are almost unreal. Starting out an old-gold color, the leaves change color as they mature to a metallic blue-green. I have seen shiny and even iridescent leaves, but I have seen very few examples of plants with leaves that literally look like metal. The metallic illusion is further enhanced by a certain unevenness and shallow bumps that create a texture reminiscent of natural ingots of metal. The entire surface, from the leaves to the stems, even to the backs of the white satellite-dish flowers, is covered in brown scales. If I should be lucky enough to get this plant to bloom, I'll share the flowers with you, along with the large, pineapple-esque buds.