Shrub or tree, 2-12 m. Leaves 6-16 x 1.8-6 cm, narrowly elliptic to oblanceolate, apex acute, upper surface reticulate, lower surface covered with a one-layered thin silvery or fawn compacted indumentum that is usually embedded in a surface film. Pedicels 20-25 mm. Flowers 4-10, in a loose inflorescence, white to pink, with purple flecks, open-campanulate, nectar pouches lacking, 30-55 mm; ovary with a glandular or eglandular indumentum, style glabrous. Flowering May. Royal Horticultural Society (1997)
Distribution China N Yunnan, Sichuan, Shaanxi, Guizhou
Habitat 1,600-3,650 m
RHS Hardiness Rating H5
Conservation status Least concern (LC)
An evergreen shrub up to 20 ft high in the wild, the quite young shoots clothed with a loose, white scurf, or sometimes glabrous. Leaves oblong-lanceolate, tapered at the base, pointed, 21⁄2 to 5 in. long, 1⁄2 to 11⁄4 in. wide, glabrous and bright green above, the lower surface covered with a close white scurf; stalk 1⁄2 in. or less long. Flowers borne in May in a lax truss of as many as twelve; flower-stalks slender, up to 11⁄2 in. long. Calyx small, with glabrous triangular lobes. Corolla white blush or pink, more or less spotted with pink on the upper lobes, broadly funnel-shaped, about 11⁄2 in. wide. Stamens twelve or fourteen, shorter than the corolla, white with down at the base (but glabrous in var. leiandrum Hutch.). Ovary downy; style glabrous. Bot. Mag., t. 8767. (s. Arboreum ss. Argyrophyllum)
Native of W. Szechwan; discovered by the Abbé David in 1869 near Mupin; introduced by Wilson in 1904. It is a fine species at its best, with flowers of a delicate pink very freely borne, and makes a well-shaped narrow bush. It is also very distinct in the pure white undersurface of the young leaves. It is a variable species. Typically, the flowers are narrowed to the base, but in var. cupulare Rehd. they are nearer to cup-shaped. The leaves may be rounded at the base, not tapered as described above for the more typical form. Award of Merit May 1, 1934, when shown by Gerald Loder, Wakehurst Place, Sussex (this may have been var. cupulare).
subsp. nankingense (Cowan) Chamberlain R. a. var. nankingense Cowan
subsp. hypoglaucum (Hemsl.) Chamberlain R. hypoglaucum Hemsl.
The var. cupulare, mentioned in the second paragraph (page 600), is included by Chamberlain in the typical part of R. argyrophyllum, which is variable in the shape of the corolla (rev. 2., p. 325).
† R. pingianum Fang – Near to R. argyrophyllum but leaves longer than in the typical state of that species, the flowers deeper pink, and the ovary eglandular and coated with a rusty tomentum. Native of central-western Szechwan. It occurs on Mount Omei (Emei Shan) and is now in cultivation from seeds collected on the mountain by Keith Rushforth and by Roy Lancaster in 1980.
More remote from R. argyrophyllum, but resembling it in many respects, is R. formosanum Hemsl. The leaves are relatively much narrower, 3 to 6 in. long and never much over 1 in. wide, with a thicker indumentum beneath and on the average with more flowers in the inflorescence. Described in 1895 from a specimen collected by Augustine Henry, it was introduced to Britain in 1973 through John Patrick’s ‘Rhododendron Venture’. It is an inhabitant of broad-leaved forest up to about 6,500 ft, making a tall shrub or small tree, and will probably prove tender.
Leaves 6-12 x 2-3cm, indumentum white or silvery; flowers white to pink, 30-35mm; ovary lacking glands.
Distribution China (N Yunnan, Sichuan, Shaanxi).
Awards AM 1934 (G.W.E Loder, Wakehurst Place, Sussex); flowers white flushed rose, with deeper pink spots.
Those forms with more open-campanulate, pink flowers have been referred to var. cupulare Rehder & E.H.Wilson. There is however a complete overlap with the more frequent form with funnel-campanulate white flowers.
R. hypoglaucum Hemsl.
Leaves 7-11 x 2.5-4cm, indumentum white; flowers white, 30-35mm; ovary glandular.
Distribution C China (E Sichuan, Hubei).
Awards 1972 (Maj. A.E. Hardy, Sandling Park, Kent) to a clone ‘Heane Wood’, as R. hypoglaucum; flowers pink in bud, opening white, suffused red-purple and spotted red-purple.
Taxonomic note (R. hypoglaucum Hemsl.)
This subspecies may be distinguished by the glandular ovaries.
Leaves 11-16 x c.4cm, coriaceous, indumentum white; flowers pink, 40-55mm; ovary without glands.
Distribution China (Guizhou, ?Sichuan).
Awards AM 1957, (Crown Estate Commissioners, Windsor) to a clone ‘Chinese Silver’; flowers Persian Rose, with darker flushes. AGM 1993
This subspecies may be recognised by the large stiff leaves and by the large pink flowers.
Leaves 6-8.5 x 1.5-2cm, indumentum fawn; flowers white; ovary without glands.
Distribution China (W Sichuan).
This subspecies, which has a restricted distribution in the wild, may be recognised by the relatively small leaves, with a fawn indumentum.
Leaves larger, very silvery white beneath, and with large trusses of pink flowers, which are more than 2 in. across. Found by A. N. Steward on the Lao Shan, Kweichow province, in 1931, and introduced by him to the Edinburgh Botanic Garden in the following year. Award of Merit April 30, 1957, when shown by the Crown Estate Commissioners, Windsor Great Park (clone ‘Chinese Silver’).