A straggly upright usually epiphytic shrub, 14 m; young shoots lacking setae. Leaves 8.5–13 × 3–4.5 cm, narrowly elliptic to oblong-elliptic, apex obtuse or rounded, margin not setose, upper surface with raised midrib, lower surface greyish green, with distant unequal reddish brown scales. Flowers 2–3(–5), in a loose terminal inflorescence, scented; calyx conspicuous, lobes 11–18 × 5–8(–10) mm, ciliate; corolla white or cream with an orange-yellow blotch at base, openly funnel-campanulate, 65–95 mm, outer surface without or with a few scales, glabrous or pubescent at base; stamens 10; ovary densely scaly, tapering into the style that is scaly in the lower half. Royal Horticultural Society (1997)
Distribution Bhutan China S Tibet India W Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur Nepal
Habitat 2,000–2,750 m
RHS Hardiness Rating H3
Awards AM 1935 (L. de Rothschild, Exbury); flowers flushed rose magenta. AM 1965 (G. Gorer, Sunte House, Haywards Heath) to a clone 'Dame Edith Sitwell'; flowers white, tinged pale pink. This may be a hybrid. AM 1969 (A.C. & J.F.A. Gibson, Glenarn, Dunbartonshire) to a clone 'Geordie Sherriff'; flowers strongly flushed externally with red-purple. FCC 1937 (Vice Adm. A.W. Heneage-Vivian, Clyne Castle, Swansea); flowers with a tinge of pink at the ends of the corolla lobes. AGM 1993
Conservation status Least concern (LC)
Taxonomic note This species is close to R. dalhousiae (q.v.). Royal Horticultural Society (1997)
An evergreen shrub of lax habit, often found in nature as an epiphyte on various species of trees; young shoots slightly scaly, otherwise glabrous. Leaves oblong to oval, rounded at both ends, 21⁄2 to 6 in. long, 3⁄4 to 2 in. wide; glaucous and scaly beneath; stalk 3⁄4 in. long. Flowers in clusters of four to eight, fragrant. Calyx 5⁄8 in. long, deeply five-lobed, the lobes oblong-ovate fringed with whitish hairs; flower-stalk 1⁄2 in. long, scaly, not downy. Corolla white, funnel-shaped, 3 to 31⁄2 in. long and wide, five-lobed. Stamens ten, very downy at the lower half. Ovary and base of style thickly covered with red-brown scales. Bot. Mag., n.s., t. 363. (s. Maddenii ss. Megacalyx)
Native of the eastern Himalaya as far west as E. Nepal and of the Mishmi Hills, the Naga Hills, and Manipur; described in 1864 from a plant growing in Standish’s nursery, where it had been raised from seeds collected in the Himalaya. As it later turned out, J. D. Hooker had found it in 1848–9 in Sikkim and the Darjeeling region but confused it with R. dalhousiae. R. lindleyi, at least under its correct name, remained a rare species in gardens until Kingdon Ward reintroduced it in 1928 from the Delei valley in the Mishmi Hills, where he found it as a slim shrub sometimes 10 to 12 ft high growing in thickets on an exposed cliff with eleven other species of rhododendron, at 9,000 ft (KW 8546). It is also in cultivation from seed collected by Ludlow and Sherriff in the Tibetan Himalaya, in 1936, from plants up to 15 ft high, growing at 7,000 to 8,500 ft.
R. lindleyi is one of the most beautiful species of the genus, with flowers of an exquisite fragrance that Thomas Moore, in his original description, likened to a mixture of lemon and nutmeg. It has to be grown in a cool greenhouse over much of the country, but flourishes in the open in many gardens on the west coast of Scotland and in other parts of the Atlantic zone. It is by nature a straggly shrub and therefore best grown on a wall or mixed with other rhododendrons of almost the same height. But on the Isle of Gigha, off the coast of Argyll, there are plants grown fully in the open which are of compact habit (R.C.Y.B. 1958, fig. 5).
The Kingdon Ward introduction from the Mishmi Hills received an Award of Merit in 1935, when shown from Exbury on April 14, 1935, and a First Class Certificate two years later, on this occasion exhibited by Adm. Heneage-Vivian, on May 4. More recently the Award of Merit has been given to two clonal forms of R. lindleyi: to ‘Dame Edith Sitwell’, shown by Geoffrey Gorer, Sunte House, Haywards Heath; and to ‘Geordie Sherriff’, raised and shown by Mr A. C. and Mr J. F. A. Gibson, Glenarn, Rhu, Dunbartonshire.
R. rhabdotum, mentioned under this species on page 709, becomes R. dalhousiae var. rhabdotum (Balf.f. & Cooper) Cullen. It is portrayed in David-ian, The Rhododendron Species, Vol. I, plate 46.