A small evergreen tree, much branched; young shoots furnished with short, branched hairs. Leaves narrowly oval-oblong, pointed, broad cuneate at the base 4 to 6 in. long, two-fifths as wide, dull green above, shining beneath, stalk about 1 in. long, downy when quite young. Flowers in a terminal truss of about twelve, 5 in. across, opening in late May and June. Corolla rich scarlet, funnel-shaped below, spreading at the top into five rounded, notched lobes which give it a diameter of 21⁄2 in., freely crimson spotted; stamens ten, red, glabrous. Ovary stellate-tomentose; style clad with stellate hairs and stalked glands. Bot. Mag., t. 9546. (s Irroratum ss. Parishii)
R. elliottii was discovered by Sir George Watt in 1882, on Mt Japvo in the Naga Hills, Assam, at 9,000 ft, where it grows with R. macabeanum and R. manipurense. It was first fully described from his specimens in 1914, by Sir William Wright-Smith, but Brandis had given a short description earlier. It was not introduced to gardens until 1927, when Kingdon Ward collected seed on Mt Japvo (KW 7725), and received an Award of Merit when two plants raised from this seed were exhibited at Chelsea on May 30, 1934, by J. J. Crosfield of Embley Park, Hants. It received a First Class Certificate three years later.
Two years after it had made its appearance at Chelsea, Lionel de Rothschild wrote: 'When we come to R. elliottii ... we have one of the finest scarlet rhododendrons that has ever been sent back. Flowering as it does in June ... it will undoubtedly leave its stamp on many of the hybrids of the future.' He himself began to use R. elliottii as a parent at about this time, the result being such well-known hybrids as Fusilier, Grenadier, Kiev, and Golden Horn. The hybrids 'Billy Budd', 'Beefeater', and 'Royal Blood', raised in the R.H.S. Garden, Wisley, by Francis Hanger, also have R. elliottii as one parent.
R. elliottii is not really satisfactory in the open except in the mildest parts, since it starts into growth so late that the young shoots are often cut by autumn frost before they are properly ripened. It is very closely allied to R. facetum (q.v. under R. eriogynum), differing in having the leaves abruptly narrowed at the base (tapered in R. facetum).