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August 2009 Rhododendron auriculatum Text and Photographs by Bob Mitchell August brings on the hot summer colours of the herbaceous plants, much beloved of butterflies. These borders are at their best this month. But there is also an increasing number of white-flowering woody plants coming into flower now. As I write the 15' tall Hoheria glabrata from New Zealand is laden with white, almost translucent, flowers. It grows at the top of the Rhododendron garden near to the summer house. Later this month and into September the lovely eucryphias will produce spires of white Hypericum-like flowers. In the Rhododendron House there is another white flowered shrub flowering now. This is Rhododendron edgeworthii, with us one of the last of the Maddenia Section rhododendrons to flower - other species produce a sequence of flowering from January. To this selection I add one of the last rhododendrons to flower in the Garden this summer. Augustine Henry discovered Rhododendron auriculatum close to Ichang in 1885 and it was named by Hemsley in the Journal of the Linnean Society in 1889. Augustine Henry, born of Irish parents in Dundee in 1857, studied medicine in Belfast before being appointed to the Imperial Maritime Customs Service in China in 1880. It was when he was resident at Ichang in Hubei Province, he started to collect herbarium specimens for Kew. Noting the devastation of the vegetation in the surrounding countryside he approached Kew to send a botanist to collect in west central China. So Ernest Wilson was sent to Ichang to start collecting seeds, plants and herbarium specimens in 1889. Veitch Nurseries sponsored his first two expeditions. Wilson collected fifteen different rhododendrons, from 21 collections, on his first expedition, of which ten were introduced to cultivation for the first time. One of the fifteen was Rhododendron auriculatum, collected under his number W. 920. Rhododendron auriculatum featured in Curtis' Botanical Magazine in 1919. The plant received an Award of Merit in 1922 and an Award of Garden Merit in 1984. Rhododendron auriculatum has grown to 15' in just over 20 years and is wider than high. It is distinctive with its pointed foliage buds. There are prominent, but transitory, showy crimson-coloured bracts as the flowers and leaves unfold to produce 6" long, oblong leaves which are eared (auricled) at the base. The inflorescence can have up to 15 fragrant flowers, each up to 5" across. They are white, with 7-8 lobes and have a pale yellow-green blotch at the base. The style is curved and is glandular to the tip. The equally late flowering Rhododendron 'Polar Bear' is a hybrid with Rh. diaprepes, dating from 1933. Cultivation. With its late flowering this is a useful addition to a Rhododendron collection but it does need a sheltered and shady position. A moist acid soil is necessary for successful cultivation. Propagation. Plants grown from seed may take 10 years to flower. Layering is an good option for low growing branches. Plants are available from specialist nurseries. Position. Rhododendron auriculatum is growing at the north-west corner of the Rhododendron garden on one of the terraces.