Tree, 6-12 m; old branches with a smooth cinnamon bark. Leaves 18-35 x 8-17 cm, broadly elliptic to obovate, upper surface rugulose with deeply impressed veins, lower surface densely covered with a two-layered indumentum, the upper layer rufous, composed of strongly fimbriate cup-shaped hairs, the lower compacted; petioles terete. Flowers 15-20, in a dense truss, 8(-10)-lobed, fleshy, whitish to cream or pale pink, with a purple basal blotch, obliquely campanulate, nectar pouches lacking, 40-50 mm; stamens usually 16; ovary densely sticky-glandular. Flowering April-May. Royal Horticultural Society (1997)
Distribution Bhutan India Bengal to Arunachal Pradesh Nepal E
Habitat 2,700-3,750 m
RHS Hardiness Rating H4
Conservation status Least concern (LC)
A large shrub or a small tree, ultimately over 30 ft high, with stiff, very thick, somewhat sparse branches, woolly when young. Leaves oval or oblong, 6 to 12 in. long, 21⁄2 to 6 in. wide (sometimes larger), very stout, thick, and strongly veined, the upper surface dark green, curiously wrinkled, but otherwise smooth; the lower surface covered with a dense, rust-coloured felt; stalk 1 to 2 in. long. Flowers about 2 in. across, creamy white or pale yellow, sometimes shaded with lilac, and marked with a conspicuous dark purple blotch at the base, fragrant, produced in spring in large terminal clusters 6 to 9 in. across; the twenty or more flowers tightly packed. Corolla bell-shaped, 2 in. long, its lobes varying in number from eight to ten; calyx scarcely observable; stamens twelve to sixteen, shorter than the corolla; style about as long as the corolla, stout, and surmounted by the large knob-like stigma; flower-stalk downy, 1 in. long. Bot. Mag., t. 4924. (s. Falconeri)
Native of the Himalaya from Nepal to Bhutan. It was described by J. D. Hooker in 1849, and it was he who introduced it effectively, though at the time that he sent seeds (1850) it was already in cultivation in a few gardens, raised from seeds sent by Col. Sykes in 1830.
R. falconeri is one of the noblest of the genus. A moisture-loving species, it thrives best in the western and northern parts of the British Isles, where all the finest specimens are to be found. But it is really quite hardy and grows well near London in high-lying places with a rainfall of 30 in. or over. At Glenarn, Rhu, Dunbartonshire, there is a remarkable specimen probably raised from the seeds sent by Hooker. It is about 30 ft high and girthed 61⁄4 ft at ground-level in 1950 (R.Y.B. 1950, fig. 46; R.C.Y.B. 1964, fig. 1; New Fl. & Sylv., Vol. 6 (1933), fig. xvi).
Other notable specimens are: Stonefield, Argyll, from the Hooker introduction, 28 ft high and as much in spread, trunk almost 4 ft in girth at 1 ft (R.C.Y.B. 1956, p. 18 and fig. 9); Muncaster Castle, Cumberland, pl. 1920 when 10 ft high, c. 35 ft high and as much wide (R.C.Y.B. 1953, p. 61); Minterne, Dorset, pl. 1893, over 30 ft high (ibid., p. 10 and fig. 1); Trengwainton, Cornwall,pl. 1897, 35 ft high, 50 ft across, on several trunks (R.C.Y.B. 1953, p. 61).
subsp. eximium (Nutt.) Chamberlain R. eximium Nutt. – This downgrading of R. eximium is not unexpected.
† R. ‘Himalayan Child’. – The rhododendron so named received an Award of Merit when shown from Windsor Great Park in 1981. It was raised from Kingdon Ward’s 13681, a collection of which the corresponding field-specimen is identified by Dr Chamberlain as R. falconeri hybrid. It was found by Kingdon Ward in 1938 in the area then called the Balipara Frontier Tract, which is at the western end of the Assam Himalaya and part of a region now known as Arunachal Pradesh. ‘Himalayan Child’ was shown as R. falconeri × R. hodgsonii – a natural hybrid that certainly occurs where the two species are in contact (Rev. 2, p. 259). KW 13681 appears in the R.H.S. Handbook as R. sinogrande and a plant raised from it is grown at Nymans as R. magnificum.
Dr Chamberlain suggests that Cox and Hutchison 427, collected in the Assam Himalaya (Arunachal Pradesh) may be a natural hybrid of R. falconeri subsp. eximium.
R. falconeri var. eximium (Nutt.) Hook. f
R. eximium Nuttall
Flowers pale pink with darker tips; leaves with a rufous scurfy indumentum above when mature.
Distribution NE India (Arunachal Pradesh).
Awards AM 1973 (Royal Botanic Gardens, Wakehurst) as a foliage plant, as R. eximium.
Taxonomic note (R. eximium Nuttall)
R. falconeri hybridizes with R. hodgsonii in the wild (q.v.).
Flowers white to cream; leaves glabrous above at maturity.
Distribution E Nepal, NE India (Bengal to Arunachal Pradesh), Bhutan.
Awards AM 1922 (Messrs Gill, Falmouth); flowers yellowish white, with a dark purple blotch. AGM 1993