Shrub or tree, 3–10 m. Leaves 8–18 × 2.5–6 cm, broadly oblanceolate to obovate, base rounded, lower surface glabrous except for persistent punctulate hair bases. Flowers scented, 5–12, in a lax truss; calyx 1–3 mm; corolla 7-lobed, pale rose, sometimes fading white, open- to funnel-campanulate, nectar pouches lacking, 55–70 mm; stamens 14–16, filaments glabrous; ovary and entire style stalked-glandular. Flowering May-July. Royal Horticultural Society (1997)
Distribution China C, S & E
Habitat 600–2,300 m
RHS Hardiness Rating H5
Conservation status Least concern (LC)
An evergreen shrub, ultimately 10 to 12 ft high, usually less in this country and of wide-spreading habit; branches stout, soon glabrous. Leaves oblong, with a tapering, rounded, or heart-shaped base, abruptly pointed; 4 to 8 in. long, 2 to 31⁄2 in. wide, quite glabrous on both surfaces, pale green above, slightly glaucous beneath; stalk stout, purplish, 1⁄2 to 1 in. long. Flowers fragrant, produced in May, somewhat loosely arranged in terminal clusters of eight to twelve; each blossom is 21⁄2 to 3 in. across, of a lovely blush tint on opening, becoming paler afterwards. Calyx so small as to be scarcely discernible. Corolla seven- (or rarely eight-) lobed, flattish; stamens fourteen to sixteen, much shorter than the corolla, glabrous; ovary and base of style glandular. Bot. Mag., t. 5596. (s. and ss. Fortunei)
Native of eastern China; discovered by Fortune in Chekiang province in 1855 and introduced to Glendinning’s nursery by means of seeds he collected the same autumn. Plants raised from these seeds were auctioned in 1859 and the species was named in that year by Lindley, but it was first properly described in 1866, in the Botanical Magazine, from a flowering specimen received from Mr Luscombe of Coombe Royal, Devon. The plate is a poor one and does not show the glands on the pedicels, style, and outer surface of the corolla characteristic of the species, though they are shown on the type specimen at Kew from which the original painting was made.
R. fortunei is a beautiful rhododendron, and is of interest as the first hardy species of ‘true’ rhododendron (as distinct from azalea) received from China.
Of the first-generation hybrids of R. fortunei the best known are those with R. griffithianum (the famous Loderi grex), R. thomsonii (Luscombei grex), and R. campylocarpum (grexes Gladys and Letty Edwards). These and others are described in the section on hybrids. In that section see also ‘Lavender Girl’ and ‘Duke of York’.
subsp. discolor (Franch.); Chamberlain R. discolor Franch.; R. mandarinorum Diels; R. kirkii Hort.; R. houlstonii Hemsl. & Wils.; R. fortunei var. houlstonii (Hemsl. & Wils.) Rehd. & Wils. – Differing from the typical subspecies only in its relatively narrower, oblanceolate leaves and not clearly demarcated from it either in this respect or geographically (Rev. 2, pp. 234–5 and Map 65). A distinguishing character given in Species of Rhododendron is the later flowering season of R. discolor. However, this applies only to the Wilson introduction from western Hupeh, and with the inclusion of R. houlstonii in subsp. discolor it is no longer true constantly if it ever was, since, as represented in British gardens by the Wilson introduction, R. houlstonii flowers even earlier than typical R. fortunei. These plants could be distinguished as R. fortunei subsp. discolor Houlstonii group.
Rhododendron discolor Franch.
Rhododendron houlstonii Hemsl. & E.H.Wilson
Rhododendron kwangfuense Chun & Fang
Leaves oblanceolate, 2.8–4× as long as broad.
Awards AM 1921 (Messrs Wallace, Tunbridge Wells) as R. discolor; flowers white, tinted pink externally. AM 1922 (Hon. H.D. McLaren, Bodnant) as R. discolor; flowers pale pink, with a dull crimson blotch. AM 1974 (Crown Estate Commissioners, Windsor) to a clone ‘John R. Elcock’, as R. houlstonii; flowers purple, yellow in throat, with some spots in upper part. FCC 1922 (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) as R. discolor; flowers white, tinted pink externally. AM 1981 (R.N.S. Clarke, Borde Hill) to a clone ‘Random Harvest’, as R. houlstonii, from an E.H. Wilson collection; flowers in trusses of 10–12, corolla white, tinged pink, with some yellow-green in upper throat. AGM 1993
RHS Hardiness Rating: H5
The two subspecies have partially overlapping distributions and apparently also overlap morphologically. R. fortunei can be confused with R. decorum but may be distinguished by the glabrous stamens. In cultivation it often has reddish petioles. R. fortunei has been much used as a parent in the generation of garden hybrids.
Described as Rhododendron discolor by Bean:
A shrub 10 to 18 ft high, of robust habit, free from down in all its parts; young shoots stout, yellowish. Leaves oblong or narrowly oval, 3 to 8 in. long, 3⁄4 to 21⁄2 in. wide, tapered about equally at both ends, sometimes heart-shaped at the base, the apex with a short mucro, upper surface deep green, lower one pale, stalks 1⁄2 to 11⁄4 in. long, stout, purple. Flowers white or faintly blush-tinted. Calyx small, glandular on the margins at first. Corolla funnel-shaped, 21⁄2 to 3 in. long and wide, six- or seven-lobed. Stamens twelve to sixteen, not downy, shorter than the corolla; ovary and style glandular. Bot. Mag., t. 8696. (s. and ss. Fortunei)
Native of Central China (E. Szechwan, Hupeh, Hunan, and Kweichow); discovered by the French missionary Farges between 1891 and 1894; introduced by Wilson in 1900, when collecting for Messrs Veitch, and again in greater quantity in 1907, during his first expedition for the Arnold Arboretum. According to him it is a common species in the woodlands of Hupeh and E. Szechwan between 4,500 and 7,000 ft. It flowered in Veitch’s Coombe Wood nursery in 1911.
R. discolor is a fine species and perfectly hardy. It does not flower until late June or early July and starts into growth late. For this reason it is less satisfactory in northern gardens, where the young wood may not ripen before winter sets in. Even in the south it should be given a moderately sunny position, but sheltered from wind. It was awarded a First Class Certificate when Kew exhibited it on June 27, 1922. A fortnight later a pale pink form, shown from Bodnant, received an Award of Merit.
Because of its late flowering and hardiness, R. discolor has been much used in hybridising. The Angelo, Argosy, Albatross, Antonio, Lady Bessborough and Azor grexes all have R. discolor as one parent.
This becomes R. fortunei subsp. discolor (Franch.) Chamberlain.
Leaves obovate, 1.8–2.5× as long as broad.