An evergreen shrub up to 10 ft high, with ascending branches and of lax habit; young shoots clad with brown flock and usually gland-tipped bristles. Leaves mostly oblong or elliptic-oblong, sometimes broadest just above the middle, up to 33⁄4 in. long and 13⁄4 in. wide, rounded and mucronate at the apex, rounded or slightly cordate at the base, upper surface at first coated with brown flock, later glabrous, rich green, the main veins and reticulations impressed, lower surface densely covered with a rich-brown felt; petiole about 3⁄4 in. long. Inflorescence a terminal truss of six to ten flowers, opening in late March or April; pedicels about 3⁄4 in. long, bristly and floccose. Calyx fleshy, cup-shaped, irregularly lobed. Corolla five-lobed, tubular-campanulate, crimson or occasionally pink, about 11⁄2 in. long, with five dark nectar-pouches at the base. Ovary conoid, densely hairy; style hairy at the base. Bot. Mag., n.s., t. 219. (s. Neriiflorum ss. Haematodes)
R. beanianum was discovered by Kingdon Ward in June 1926 in the upper Seinghku valley, N.W. Burma (KW 6805). He wrote of it: 'One of the most splendid sights was the “Haematodes” rhododendron. . . . Some specimens fairly spouted flowers, for besides being entirely smothered, scarlet pools of fallen corollas lay beneath. The species grows between 9,000 and 11,000 ft, but not higher, and the flower colour varies, being sometimes much paler – carmine or almost pink in extremes, but then the glands stand out as hectic, blood-red spots. It varies in size, too, from a good-sized bush eight or ten feet high to a scrubby plant' (Gard. Chron., Vol. 81 (1927), p. 303).
The flowering specimen collected by Kingdon Ward was apparently lost, but he sent home seeds and the species was described in 1938 from plants growing at Exbury. KW 6289, from the same valley, is also R. beanianum. In his account of this species, Dr Cowan also cited a flowering specimen collected by Kingdon Ward two years later in the Delei valley (KW 8254), but see below.
R. beanianum is striking both in flower and foliage. But it is of ungainly habit and too early-flowering for most gardens. Also, whole stems are apt to be killed to the ground by late frosts.
Award of Merit March 31, 1953, when shown by Col. The Lord Digby, Cerne Abbey, Dorset (raised from KW 6805).
var. compactum Cowan – Leaves glossy; stems and petioles without bristles. Habit more compact. Found by Kingdon Ward in 1933 in the Tibetan province of Zayul, near the source of the Delei river, not far from where he had collected his KW 8254 five years previously (see above). He introduced it under KW 11040. This variety is very distinct from typical R. beanianum in general appearance and flowers later. Plants under KW 8254 seem near to var. compactum.
From the Supplement (Vol. V)
R. piercei Davidian R. beanianum var. compactum Cowan – The main difference between this species and R. beanianum is that the undersurface has a dense indumentum of two layers, the upper tomentose and rust-coloured, the lower whitish and appressed, while in R. beanianum the lower layer is lacking (Rev. 2, key, p. 385). Under var. compactum on page 608 it is remarked that some plants under KW 8254 resemble this variety, i.e., R. piercei. But this number is R. beanianum.