[The ancient Greek name, meaning rose-tree.]
Northern States this is a straggling shrub of very irregular growth, but one of the most magnificent in foliage and flower the country can boa3t of. It is abundant in the Middle States, and in the mountainous tracts of the Southern, but rare in New England.
It is generally under ten feet in height in this part of the country, but sometimes attains the height of twenty or twenty-five feet in a less rigorous climate. The places where it is found in New England, may be considered as beyond its proper natural limits, and it is met with only in warm swamps, under the shelter of evergreens, and where the roots are protected by water, which usually overflows these places.
The flower-buds are often destroyed, even when it is thus situated, in very severe seasons. When the leaves are beginning to unfold themselves they are rose-colored, and covered with red down. When fully expanded, they are smooth, five or six inches long, of an elongated oval form, and of a thick texture. They are evergreen, and partially renewed once in three or four years. It puts forth flowers in June and July, which are, commonly, rose-colored, with yellow or orange dots on the inside, and sometimes pure white, or shaded with lake. They are always collected at the extremity of the branches, in beautiful groups, which derive additional lustre from the foliage that surrounds them. Previous to their expansion, the flowers are in one large compound bud, resembling a cone, each individual bud being covered by a rhomboidal bract, which falls off when the flower expands. The corolla is monopetalous, (one piece or petal,) funnel-shaped, with a short tube, the border divided into five large, unequal segments. There is but a small chance of plants succeeding which have been taken from swamps. The surest way to propagate it is by seed, from which it readily grows, but requires time and patience to bring it into a flowering state.
Shade and humidity seem almost indispensable to the growth of this shrub. Deeply shaded situations, where the atmosphere is laden with vapors, are most congenial to its growth. It is, therefore, well calculated for the shrubbery. With a little attention, it may be insured to stand the sun, and then forms a stately ornament for the lawn or grass-plot. The proper soil is a light, rich, peaty loam, with moisture. It will grow, however, in almost any, and flourish on a strong, heavy loam. It may be propagated from cuttings and layers, from young, healthy branches of ripened wood. There are many exotic species, which are beautiful, and highly ornamental to the green-house.
A low species from the mountains of Virginia and southward. It has shorter and more rounded leaves than the preceeding, and large lilac-purple flowers. Quite hardy.
A native of Asia Minor, where it is a" large shrub. Though usually hardy if protected, it forms here only a low bush, with large purple flowers. These three species are hardy, and from them have been produced numerous beautiful hybrids, which are equally hardy, and are among the most interesting and valuable of flowering shrubs.
My friend, Mr. Robert Murray, Landscape Gardener, Waltham, Mass., has been very successful in the management of the Rhododendron, and has, at my request, favored me with a letter, from which I extract the following: "The beautiful hybrid varieties sent us a few years ago from the English nurseries, have proved as hardy and as well adapted to our climate, as our native R. maximum; the flower-buds are sometimes killed by severe winters, but that may be avoided by a slight covering of white pine boughs, laid over the plants before winter sets in; by so doing, I never had a bud injured. I will now state for the information of all amateur florists, the best method of preparing the soil for a luxuriant growth, and gorgeous display of flowers. The following kinds of American shrubs, along with the Rhododendrons, will all flourish and do well with the same soil and treatment: Kalmia latifolia, Andromedas, and all the fine, new, hardy, hybrid Azaleas. Select a piece of ground in a partially shaded situation, then excavate and cart away all the soil to the depth of two feet,; then fill the hole, about one-half full, of dry peat mud; then from the hollow places of an old oak wood, dig six or eight inches of the soil, which is principally decomposed leaves; cart and fill up the whole excavation; then lay all over the top six inches of clear white sand; then begin at one side, turning, breaking up, and mixing the whole together twice, allowing the bed to stand for some time to settle; it will ultimately be no higher than the surrounding ground. In the months of April or May, plant all the sorts and varieties of those I have named, from two to two and one-half feet apart, mixing the different colors to suit the taste. Afterwards, lay a covering of leaves, six inches in depth, all over the ground, amongst the plants, the same never to be removed; and as they have decayed through the summer, add more to those that have blown amongst them by the fall winds. They are all propagated by seeds or layers; but as both methods take a number of years to get good-sized flowering plants, I would, therefore, leave their propagation to the nurseryman. Fine plants, full of flower-buds of all the new, hardy, hybrid Rhododendrons, and Azalias, can be bought at all the principal nurseries at very moderate prices, considering the time it takes to get good-sized flowering plants."