Shrub, 0.5–1.5 m; young shoots scaly and densely setose. Leaves evergreen, thick, with a persistent bluish bloom, 3–3.5 × 1.5–1.8 cm, obovate to obovate-elliptic, apex rounded, margin revolute, lower surface with equal golden scales. Flowers 2(–3) in a loose terminal inflorescence; calyx lobes 1–7 mm, ciliate; corolla clear yellow, sometimes with orange spots, funnel-campanulate, 20–33 mm, outer surface scaly and sparsely setose; stamens 10; ovary scaly and densely setose, impressed below the style that is strongly deflexed and usually glabrous, though rarely with a few scales at base. Flowering May-June. Royal Horticultural Society (1997)
Distribution China SW Yunnan
Habitat 3,050–3,650 m
RHS Hardiness Rating H5
Awards AM 1969 (Capt. c. Ingram, Benenden, Kent); flowers green-yellow. AGM 1993
Conservation status Near threatened (NT)
Taxonomic note The thick bluish leaves make this a distinctive species. Royal Horticultural Society (1997)
An evergreen dwarf shrub of mounded habit, up to 3 ft high, more across; branchlets bristly and scaly. Leaves thin, ovate to obovate, obtuse at the apex, about 11⁄2 in. long and 5⁄8 in. wide, intensely glaucous above, especially when young and in the following winter, paler and scaly beneath, very bristly at the margin; petioles up to 3⁄8 in. long, bristly. Flowers solitary or in twos, terminal, borne in June on stalks 3⁄4 to 11⁄4 in. long. Calyx about 3⁄8 in. deep, scaly and bristly. Corolla funnel-shaped, five-lobed, about 11⁄2 in. wide, pale yellow or greenish yellow, with darker spotting, downy and scaly on the back. Stamens ten, hairy at the base. Ovary scaly and bristly; style slender, scaly at the base. (s.Trichocladum)
R. lepidostylum was described from a specimen collected by Forrest in 1919 on the Jangtzow Shan, Shweli-Salween divide, near the border between Yunnan and Burma, and was introduced by him from the same area in 1924 (F.24633). According to his field note it makes there a compact shrub 1 to 11⁄2 ft high, growing on humus-covered boulders and on ledges of cliffs at 11,000 to 12,000 ft. He made no mention of the striking colour of the foliage for which alone this species is valued in gardens, the flowers being negligible. This feature was apparently first remarked on in print by A. T. Johnson eleven years after the species was introduced: ‘Not much over 1 ft in height, but extending laterally to two or three feet, this Rhododendron would be well worth a place for its foliage alone, for the leaves are almost luminously glaucous, especially in winter. The leaves, ovate or obovate, are covered with silvery bristles, which, fringing the margins and stalks, render the foliage still more attractive’ (Gard. Chron., Vol. 98 (1935), p. 224). The remarkable foliage and characteristic habit of R. lepidostylum is well shown in the colour photograph of a clump at Brodick in the Isle of Arran, reproduced in the Year Book for 1951–2, fig. 55.
R. lepidostylum is perfectly hardy and starts into growth so late that the young growths are unlikely ever to be damaged by frost. It received an Award of Merit on June 24, 1969, when shown by Capt. Collingwood Ingram, Benenden, Kent.