A dwarf, slow-growing evergreen shrub of close habit, ultimately 3 or 4 ft high and wide, forming a dense hemispherical mass; young shoots covered with rust-coloured scales. Leaves narrow-oblong or oval, tapering at both ends, 1 to 13⁄4 in. long, 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 in. wide; dark glossy green and slightly scaly above, but thickly covered beneath with golden-brown, ultimately rust-coloured scales. Flowers rosy scarlet or deep rose, 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 in. wide and long, produced in June in terminal clusters of six to twelve blossoms; corolla scaly outside, funnel-shaped at the base, with five spreading, oblong lobes; calyx-lobes very short; stamens ten, hairy at the base; flower-stalk 1⁄3 in. long, scaly.
Native mainly of the European Alps and Pyrenees, but also found in the Jura and the mountains of W. Yugoslavia; farther to the south and east it is replaced by R. kotschyi. It avoids limestone, though it may occasionally be found on heavily leached limestone soils or where there is an accumulation of peat over the bedrock. It was in cultivation in Britain in 1740.
Visitors to the Alps well know this shrub as the 'Alpine rose', often covering miles of mountainside and making one of the most gorgeous of Alpine pictures in July. It finds the conditions of the Thames Valley too hot and dry for it, but in the cooler midland and northern counties is a charming bush of neat, healthy aspect, flowering freely every summer. It has produced several varieties, some, no doubt, of garden origin, which vary chiefly in the colour of the blossom, but even in a wild state one may notice in a day's walk many variations of colour between rosy pink and rosy scarlet, and on rare occasions a white-flowered plant.
f. album (D. Don) Zab. R. ferrugineum var. album D. Don – Flowers white. It is rare in the wild, and protected in most alpine countries. Award of Merit June 10, 1969.
f. atrococcineum (Bean) Rehd. R. ferrugineum var. atrococcineum Bean – This is the form whose flowers most nearly approach scarlet.
cv. ' Variegatum'. – Leaves with a thin border of creamy white; of no value.
R. ferrugineum × R.hirsutum. – Hybrids between these two species are quite common in the wild and back-cross with the parents, giving rise in places to a series of forms uniting the two. It is said that in some localities these intermediates are more common than either parent, and may even occur where one or the other is absent (Hegi, Fl. Mitteleuropa, Vol. V.3, p. 1644). The correct name for this group of hybrids would appear to be R. × halense Gremblich, the type of which is near to R. ferrugineum, but with some hairs at the margin and with calyx-lobes very short. Gremblich also gave the name R. × hirsutiforme to forms near to R. hirsutum. The R. × intermedium of Tausch was defined as being half-way between the two species, but this name is illegitimate.
R. kotschyi Simonkai R. myrtifolium Schott & Kotschy, not Lodd.; R. ferrugineum var. myrtifolium (Schott & Kotschy) Schroeter; R. ferrugineum subsp. myrtifolium (Schott & Kotschy) Hayek – This has the general aspect of R. ferrugineum, but is usually smaller in habit; its leaves average under 1 in. long, the corolla is downy outside, and it is especially distinguished by the much shorter style. In the typical form the flowers are of the same colour as in R. ferrugineum, but there is also one with white flowers. Native of the Carpathians and of the mountains of Bulgaria and Yugoslav Macedonia. Bot. Mag., t. 9132.
From the Supplement (Vol. V)
R. kotschyi – This is the correct name for the species described, not R. myrtifolium Schott & Kotschy (1851), which is antedated by R. myrtifolium Lodd. (1824), a validly published name for R. hirsutum × R. minus.