Prostrate to erect shrub, to 1 m. Leaves 0.4–2(–2.5) × 0.2–0.7(–0.9) cm, oblong-elliptic to elliptic-ovate, apex obtuse or rounded, mucronate, lower surface covered with a mixture of touching, straw-coloured to fawn and ferrugineous scales. Flowers 3–6; calyx lobes 1–2 mm, deltoid; corolla violet-rose to purple or sometimes white, broadly funnel-shaped, 7–15 mm; stamens 5–10, about as long as the corolla; ovary scaly, style longer than the stamens, glabrous. Flowering March-April.
A distinctive and widespread species that is difficult in cultivation. Royal Horticultural Society (1997)
Distribution Canada Denmark Greenland Finland Norway Russia Arctic Sweden United States Alaska
RHS Hardiness Rating H6
Awards PC 1993 (A.J. Richards, Newcastle upon Tyne) to a clone 'Brian Davidson', from seed collected in Norway by Brian Davidson.
Conservation status Least concern (LC)
A dwarf evergreen shrub rarely more than 1 to 11⁄2 ft high, the lower branches often prostrate; young wood very scaly, becoming warted. Leaves oblong, rounded or abruptly tapered at the apex, 1⁄4 to 1 in. long, 1⁄8 to 1⁄4 in. wide, rough and dark green above, covered beneath with brownish-yellow scales; stalk 1⁄12 to 1⁄8 in. long. Flowers bright purple, 3⁄4 in. across, produced three to six together in a small cluster. Calyx and flower-stalk very scaly; calyx-lobes triangular, fringed; stamens five to eight, about as long as the corolla, quite devoid of down; flower-stalk 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 in. long. Bot. Mag., t. 3106. (s. Lapponicum)
Native of northern Scandinavia, often on limestone, and of North America in high latitudes, also found on a few mountain tops in the north-eastern USA. It was introduced to Britain in 1825 but was soon lost to cultivation and although reintroduced many times since then it has never become established. It probably requires exceptionally cool, moist conditions and a long snow-cover. It is a very pretty plant, the colour of the flowers being very bright, and with more blue in them than almost any other species. See also R. parvifolium.
The Philipsons, in their revision of the subsection Lapponica, adhere to the view of some other botanists that R. parvifolium must be included in R. lapponicum without distinction. The combined species has the widest range of any rhododendron, occurring in both the eastern and western hemispheres at high latitudes, with southward extensions into Korea, Japan and the mountains of North America.