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Shrub, 1-1.3 m, often epiphytic; young shoots setose. Leaves 3-4 x 1.6-2.2 cm, narrowly ovate to elliptic or obovate, apex rounded, margin ciliate, lower surface densely scaly. Flowers 1-2, terminal; calyx lobes c.2mm, pubescent; corolla white, often flushed pink, usually with dark red spots, open-funnel-campanulate, 30-35 mm, outer surface glabrous, lacking scales; stamens 10; style longer than stamens, declinate. Flowering February-March. Royal Horticultural Society (1997)
Distribution China W Sichuan, Guizhou
Habitat 2,000-4,000 m
RHS Hardiness Rating H5
Awards FCC 1994 (Crown Estate Commissioners, Windsor) to a clone 'Ice Cool'; truss 1-3-flowered, greenish white, with two small clusters of moderate red spots in the dorsal throat. AGM 1993
Conservation status Near threatened (NT)
Taxonomic note This species is closely allied to R. dendrocharis (q.v.) and one of the earliest species to flower in cultivation. Royal Horticultural Society (1997)
A dwarf evergreen shrub 2 to 4 ft high; young shoots hairy, much of the hairiness disappearing by autumn. Leaves leathery, obovate, or oval, rather convex above, rounded or slightly heart-shaped at the base, usually rounded and with a short mucro at the apex, 3⁄4 to 11⁄2 in. long, about half as wide, dark, slightly glossy green, and glabrous except for some minute down on the midrib above, pale and covered with minute scales beneath, margins ciliate at first towards the base; leaf-stalk 1⁄8 to 1⁄4 in. long, furnished with dark hairs. Flowers one to three in a terminal cluster, opening in February or March; flower-stalks short, scaly. Calyx about 1⁄6 in. long, scaly and hairy on the outside, with broadly rounded lobes. Corolla white or pink, sometimes spotted with purple or crimson, five-lobed, funnel-shaped, up to 2 in. across. Stamens ten, downy in the lower part. Ovary scaly; style glabrous. Bot. Mag., t. 8598. (s. Moupinense)
Native of W. Szechwan, where it grows as an epiphyte on evergreen oaks and other broad-leaved trees, but sometimes on rocks and cliffs; discovered by Père David in 1869; introduced by Wilson in 1909, during his first expedition for the Arnold Arboretum. It flowered with Miss Ellen Willmott of Great Warley, Essex, in 1913 and received an Award of Merit when she showed it the following year on February 10. The pink-flowered form received the same award when shown from Bodnant on February 23, 1937. It is a delightful rhododendron and perfecdy hardy, but flowering so early it is rarely seen in perfection in frosty gardens. It is the parent of many early-flowering hybrids.