Large shrub or small tree, 1.5–6 m; bark smooth and flaking, reddish brown; young shoots and petioles with long stiff bristles. Leaves 9–19 × 3.5–6.5 cm, elliptic to obovate, apex acute to acuminate, upper surface without strongly impressed veins, lower surface glabrous when mature or with scattered dendroid hairs and stalked glands. Flowers fleshy, 10–20, in a tight truss, crimson to blood-red, with darker nectar pouches (rarely pure white), tubular-campanulate, 30–35 mm; ovary densely stalked-glandular, also with some hairs, style glabrous. Flowering March-April. Royal Horticultural Society (1997)
Distribution S Tibet Bhutan India N Nepal
Habitat 2,700–3,700 m
RHS Hardiness Rating H5
Awards AM 1934 (C. Armytage Moore, Winterfield House, Cranleigh, Surrey); flowers Turkey Red.
Conservation status Vulnerable (VU)
Taxonomic note Closely allied to R. argipeplum (q.v.) but differing in the less hairy leaves. Royal Horticultural Society (1997)
An evergreen shrub or small tree, the bark peeling from the branches and leaving them blue-grey and smooth; winter-buds viscid; branches yellowish, sometimes glabrous, sometimes bristly. Leaves in a terminal cluster, oblong, heart-shaped at the base, terminated by a short, fine point, 4 to 9 in. long, 1 to 3 in. wide, dark dull green and ultimately glabrous above, pale and usually woolly at first beneath; stalk 1⁄2 to 1 in. long, conspicuously bristly on the upper side and at the base of the midrib. Flowers densely packed in a hemispherical truss about 4 in. wide, rich scarlet. Calyx with five glabrous ovate lobes, 1⁄4 in. long. Corolla bell-shaped, 11⁄2 in. across, five-lobed. Stamens ten. Ovary clad with long-stalked glands; style glabrous. (s. and ss. Barbatum)
Native of the Himalaya as far west as Kumaon, at 8,000 to 12,000 ft; introduced probably in 1829 (it was flowering in at least three gardens in 1848). This rhododendron is hardy in a sheltered spot at Kew, where it flowers in April. It is somewhat gaunt of habit, but worth growing for its marvellous richness of colour. It is, of course, much finer in Cornwall and similar places. There is some variation in the bristliness of the stems and leaves.
[R. argipeplum] – Included in R. smithii.
[R. imberbe – Probably a natural hybrid between R. barbatum and R. arboreum (Rev. 2, p. 430).
R. barbatum var. smithii (Hook.) C.B. CI