An evergreen shrub of densely twiggy, bushy, shape, 3 to 4 ft high; young shoots very slender, densely scurfy. Leaves narrowly oblong or lanceolate, tapered at both ends; 1⁄3 to 3⁄4 in. long, 1⁄12 to 1⁄5 in. wide; dark slightly glaucous green and scaly above, furnished with glistening yellowish scales beneath, and sometimes with scattered larger brown ones; stalk to 3⁄4 in. long. Flowers two to four closely packed in terminal clusters 1 in. wide. Calyx minute, with small lobes covered thickly with glistening scales like the flower-stalk, which is only 1⁄12 in. long. Corolla pale mauve, 3⁄4 in. wide, with a very short, downy tube, five-lobed, the lobes rounded, ovate, 1⁄4 in. long. Stamens ten, purple, about 1⁄4 in. long, with a tuft of down near the base; anthers red. Ovary scaly; style glabrous, reddish, shorter than, or equalling, the stamens. (s. Lapponicum)
Native of N.W. Yunnan and S.W. Szechwan at alpine elevations, in open pastures, on stony slopes, cliffs, etc., sometimes on limestone; discovered and introduced by Forrest in 1913. This is a pleasing dwarf shrub with some resemblance to R. scintillans, but paler in colour of blossom than is usual in that species, and with a shorter style, which varies in length, but does not usually extend to the level of the anthers. There is also some variation in the density of the scales beneath the leaves; in some forms they almost conceal the surface of the blade, in others they are more widely spaced. It is quite hardy at Kew, grows well, and flowers freely towards the end of April, and is noticeable for its neat habit and rounded shape when young. Eventually it will reach a height of 4 ft, but remains of fairly dense habit; wild plants appear to be mostly quite dwarf.
var. longistylum Philipson & Philipson – Style longer than the stamens, as in R. scintillans, from which this variety can be distinguished by the much closer scales on the leaf-undersides. Introduced by Forrest (F.21988).
cv. 'Microleucum'. – Flowers pure white, about 3⁄4 in. wide, very freely borne. A small, dense shrub to about 2 ft high (R. microleucum Hutch.; R. orthocladum var. microleucum (Hutch.) Philipson & Philipson) Bot. Mag., n.s., t. 171A. 'Microleucum' was described in 1933 from a plant growing in Lionel de Rothschild's collection at Exbury, which had almost certainly been raised from seeds gathered by Forrest in W. China. It is evidently an albino form, not a good species, and in the article accompanying the plate in the Botanical Magazine, Cowan and Davidian took the view that it is nearer to R. orthocladum than it is to R. scintillans, with which Hutchinson compared it. It is known only in cultivation, and no purple-flowered form has been found that matches it precisely in botanical characters. 'Microleucum' is one of the most attractive of the Lapponicums, and received a First Class Certificate when shown from Exbury in 1939.